A Canadian public television broadcaster reminded the media yesterday that public interest must take precedence over political and commercial interests.
Tony Burman, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's news and current affairs, was in Taipei to give a speech on public values in the media and ethics in news reporting.
Commenting on the current popularity of "rumor-based" stories that are often written or produced with little verification, Burman warned the local media to be extremely careful in handling this type of story.
Once a media organization publishes a story based on flimsy evidence, journalists tend to think that "it's [the news] already out there," and follow suit without further verifying the facts.
"Always have at least two sources," Burman said. "Be careful of stories where you have not verified the information and deal with it with care and openness."
"If you find that the news is only gossip and irrelevant to public interest, avoid going into it," he said.
Burman said that in many countries, including Taiwan, public television broadcasters are having difficulty maintaining their audience because of more popular commercial programming on private news channels.
The public also distrusts the media in general as some media organizations' credibility has been put into question and therefore "blackens us all," Burman said.
However, he said that viewers are still able to distinguish quality programs from the rest. At the end of the day, what the public wants are accuracy and credibility, not rumors.
Burman outlined several challenges for broadcasters, including protecting the integrity of news content in the face of growing political and commercial pressures and establishing credibility and trust with the public.
"A public broadcaster is not responsible to shareholders or advertisers, but only to the public," Burman said.
The public's trust in the media has declined over the years because they are no longer sure whether media organizations are serving their own interests or the public's, Burman added.
Broadcast management also have to ensure that the news content is free from all outside influence, except for feedback from the public, and be alert to insidious pressure from the government or politicians, he said.
"Credibility cannot be achieved overnight," Burman said. "But public broadcasters must conduct journalism in an open and accountable way."
The event was held by the Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award, an organization that awards various media organizations each year for ethical and professional reporting.