Public Television Service's (PTS) airing of a documentary titled TV Monster (
During the vote count in the 2000 presidential election, local TV stations tried to outdo each other in reporting ballot figures. All these figures were fabricated, however.
When it came to the 2004 presidential election, the media were even more unrestrained in their inflated reports of the vote count. Other than PTS and Chinese Television Company (CTV), every TV station was involved in this type of reporting. Some stations went completely overboard, absurdly inflating the vote count to numbers that exceeded the final tally.
Even worse, these media outlets allowed their subjective views to influence the procedure, which created a false impression that the pan-blue ticket with presidential candidate Lien Chan (
In reality, based on the Central Election Commission's tallies, the incumbents, President Chen Shui-bian (
In the end, the reported figures exceeded the total number of ballots cast, and these TV stations had no choice but to correct their figures, forcing anchorpersons to say that there had been "a sudden change in the election results" to cover up their errors. Some people then charged that the "sudden change" was a result of vote rigging. With their inflated vote count reports, these TV stations must shoulder a great deal of the responsibility for the unrest among pan-blue supporters that followed.
TV Monster gives a vivid account of these media manuevers. Communications and broadcasting teachers should write an open letter demanding that anchorpersons involved in the inflated voting reports resign collectively.
They should also play this documentary in class as a warning to future journalists and anchorpersons so that they will not repeat the same kind of shameful mistake.
The exposure of the inflated vote count reports is good, as TV stations would not dare repeat such exaggerated reporting.
Nevertheless, false news reports are still rampant, mainly in the form of placement marketing.
A TV anchorman in TV Monster said that on average, there are five pieces of placement news in every two hours of news broadcast.
A former reporter at the Chinese-language China Times also said that newspapers sold news coverage in the form of interviews. We have to be grateful that there still are reporters with a conscience. They might have made similar mistakes in the past, but at least they are willing to correct past errors by bearing testimony in the documentary, which shows that there is still a ray of hope for media self-discipline.
Unfortunately, China Times' president, Huang Chao-sung (
Placement marketing must be thoroughly eradicated. Because the government is the largest buyer of such marketing, Premier Su Tseng-chang (
TV Monster also delved into the incident relating to pop singer Lo Ta-yu (
I think, however, that the director failed to grasp the essence of the controversy: The point is not that PTS shouldn't have apologized, but that an apology is not sufficient.
PTS can air programs containing political criticism, but it should not air personal attacks, regardless of whether such attacks are directed at Lee or at Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
The PTS program director and manager aired such tasteless programming either because they lack an understanding of public values or because of their ideological bias, which runs counter to the call for social moderation.
PTS should take this opportunity to hold an internal discussion on the meaning of public values and rebuild the organization. After doing so, it can apologize to the public for airing such a tasteless program.
However, if it continues with its strategy of hastily apologizing to defuse the situation, it will set a bad example for future journalists who may shy away from critical reporting. If that were to happen, building self-discipline among the media will become even more difficult.
Jason Liu is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti
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