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Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 26 News List

Recording the annals of our time

With so much of Taiwan's media doing China's bidding and abusing freedomof speech, the `Taipei Times' has a job to do in setting the record straight

By Rick Chu

In his autobiography, Lee Byung-chull, the founder of South Korea's Samsung Group, describes his experience of founding the Joong-ang Daily in 1965. He said of this: "Use the best facilities, the best talent and offer the best salaries to make the best product. These four bests are the promise we make with the Joong-ang Daily."

I was the translator for the Chinese version of this autobiography. As a media professional, this passage made a deep impression on me. The Joong-ang Daily has now been recognized as the Wall Street Journal of South Korea. The promise made many years ago has been fulfilled.

Five years ago, when I first became involved in preparing the Taipei Times for publication, I silently made Lee's promise the benchmark for this newspaper. Although I dare not claim the Taipei Times is a newspaper of the first rank, over the past five years, we have worked toward making it a first-rate product.

We have the ideal conditions to produce a first-rate product. We use the printing press of the Liberty Times, which is the best in Asia, and the wages we pay are the highest of any newspaper in Taiwan (including Chinese-language newspapers), and we are therefore able to attract some of the most talented people.

If, with these advantages, we still cannot produce a first-rate product, then clearly we are not working hard enough; and naturally, there is still plenty we can do to improve. But I firmly believe high wages are the only way to ensure that our reporters have adequate financial guarantees, which is a precondition for their maintaining high ethical standards.

In addition to nurturing conscientious journalists and lifting the quality of the paper, we face an even greater challenge. Taiwan's media face the challenges of muddled values, debased ethical standards and a failure to distinguish right from wrong. It is a worrying situation. Since the lifting of the ban on new newspapers' publication in 1988 and the deregulation of electronic media in 1994, the past decade has seen the nation's media descend into what can only be described as decadence.

It is hard for people outside the region to imagine to what extent Taiwan is a victim of false media reporting that results from the threatening presence of a powerful neighbor, China. The sort of false reporting I am talking about is very different from the sort of thing that was uncovered with reports of award-winning journalists in the US making up stories.

The mendacity of Taiwan's media has reached a level at which news organizations are willing to serve as the mouthpieces of our enemy. The so-called "pro-unification media" are a channel for unificationist propaganda from Beijing, which aims to alarm Taiwanese and create civil unrest through the spread of disinformation. This should not be the case in a mature democracy.

I've often said that there is no need for the Government Information Office to restrict the circulation of the People's Daily in Taiwan, for that newspaper has no market here. If it were distributed here it would soon be forced to fold. In any case, it hardly matters anymore because Taiwan has newspapers that maintain the views of the People's Daily with even greater vehemence and circulate Beijing's views. Moreover, up to 80 percent of Taiwan's media can be considered "pro-China."

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