Over the years, political talk shows on television have been regarded as a source of social chaos. Political misdeeds and media sensationalism have come to be regarded as two sides of the same coin.
TVBS claims that its 9pm Public Debate show will refrain from ideologically-driven verbal sparring and provide in-depth analyses of major issues. This is indeed a praiseworthy aim. Unfortunately, in reality, the show retains faults that affect its judgement and which can have significant repercussions.
The fierce controversy that has surrounded the program has revealed a malicious tendency: the belief that the media need not bear any responsibility for the opinions it broadcasts. For example, show host Lee Tao (李濤) stated publicly that if only two out of every 10 opinions aired on the show are fact, that would be enough. Then there was another well-known host, a former labor activist, who said that he didn't need proof or evidence to back up his statements, and that he could spout whatever nonsense he wanted to.
It is ironic, therefore, that when Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers accused TVBS of being wholly owned by Chinese parties and further, that it had evaded paying taxes, the stat-ion demanded that its accusers back up their accusations with evidence. There are clearly double standards being applied.
It is easy to criticize others but hard to restore a person's reputation once it has been damaged. This is why the media must be especially cautious about human-rights issues. In a society based on human rights and the rule of law, we must accept that some criminals are still at large because the evidence against them proved insufficient for a conviction. This is the price we pay for cherishing democratic principles.
The other question the show raises is the allocation of responsibility. On 9pm Public Debate, participants get emotional and threaten to take each other to court. This sort of behavior precludes any rational discussion. Lee has said that participants should be willing to take responsibility for what they say, but what does this actually imply? For example, retired elementary-school principal Chao Yu-chu (趙玉柱), the father of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) son-in-law, recently said he would commit ritual suicide if it could be proved that he visited Thailand last November with former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan (陳哲男), who has now been implicated in a major financial scandal. Will his accusers be willing to make a similar vow, and if indeed Chao is proved innocent, will they actually kill themselves?
The DPP has finally lost its patience with 9pm Public Debate. But its response has been in the same vein as the show, with a DPP legislator announcing that if he does not close down TVBS then he will change his family name. If the government really tries to close down TVBS, the public is likely to side with the television station in the name of press freedom. But if TVBS is to use the public as its shield against government attack, it must do one thing first: reveal the truth. The station needs to produce evidence, and before the situation is clear, it should seek to block further allegations.
Since its inception, 9pm Public Debate has claimed to pursue fairness and justice. Common people like me support it completely in tackling public issues. But I believe that it has used the wrong methods for the right end goal. I am a citizen, and all citizens want better-quality media. We do not want a TV program that only spouts nonsense.
Yao Jen-to is an assistant professor at the Institute of Sociology at National Tsing Hua University.
TRANSLATED BY LIN YA-TI
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