Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Reporters told to get facts straight

MEDIA ETHICS The pressure of working for a media outlet means some reporters are too quick to rely on what are frequently unreliable sources of information

By Cody Yiu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Reporters should be more skeptical of their sources, check their facts and avoid hiding behind vague bylines, media representatives discussing the problems of "whistle-blower"-type news said at a forum hosted by the Broadcasting Development Fund yesterday.

"When a reporter cannot find the right person to verify a fact while writing a story, the reporter normally shrugs it off and considers that the responsibility to check facts has been fulfilled," said Poe Ta-chung (卜大中), head editorial writer at the Apple Daily.

Poe said the most effective way to stop unsubstantiated reports getting published is for readers or viewers to call the news channel or newspaper to complain about the mistakes.

As readers and viewers are the customers, responsible media outlets will take complaints seriously, Poe said.

Lu Shih-Hsiang (盧世祥), CEO of the Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence, said, "The trend in Taiwanese media has been that many news stories result from tips from alleged `insiders.' These stories normally lack credibility, and it is essential for reporters who have got a lead to double-check the credibility of the sources and look for hard evidence."

Formosa Television's news department, Radio Taiwan International and Central Broadcasting System (CBS) were also at yesterday's forum.

One topic of discussion was the recent reports of high-ranking Taipei City Government officials receiving "sexual treatments."

"The source of the information was a sketchy man with a record of psychological disorders who called himself `Hsiao Liu (小劉),'" Poe said. "When he first called us, we decided not to report this story because we felt the source was unreliable, as Hsiao Liu did not provide any evidence to back up his claim."

However, many news channels which received the same lead decided to go ahead and report the story. In the end, Taipei City Hall proved that Hsiao Liu's story was a total fabrication.

Poe said that despite the serious blunder committed by news channels, none had bothered to apologize for reporting the unsubstantiated stories.

"When a reporter gets a lead from an alleged insider, due to the pressure to write an exclusive story, as well as to meet daily deadlines, the reporter often does not have enough time to verify facts before publishing the story -- this is a major problem within Taiwanese media," said Cheryl Lai (賴秀如), the president of CBS.

According to Lai, many reporters do not even use their own names for bylines, using "mixed reporting" instead, which she said was an illustration of irresponsible journalism.

"In order to curb this problem, reporters should use their own names in order to claim responsibility for the authenticity of their reports," Lai said.

If the person who can verify a fact cannot be reached, a reporter should say that in the story, Lu said.

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