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When it comes to media, you get what you deserve

Publication Date : 09-01-2013


It's easy to decry the current state of the news industry, and to long for the good old days when media outlets cared more about freedom of speech and democracy, and reporters wished for the truth, and nothing else.

The only problem, according to US radio host Brooke Gladstone, is “the good ol' days were never as good as we like to believe.” In her recent book, “The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media,” which retraces the media industry from ancient times to the present, she clearly argues that the US media have always been imperfect because “they're only giving us what we demand.”

In a convincing and easily digestible argument, she urges media consumers to reject any type of bias and invites news outlets to better train their reporters to the various forms of partiality that can creep into their writing.

Back in Taiwan, it's equally easy to look at local media these days and fear that they are worse than they've ever been. The problem is that we only get the media we deserve, too.

Contrary to all expectations, a biased, slanted and lying media has long been a part of our culture. But most people are more than willing to accept or denounce such bias according to their political stance — and the party in power.

The most recent example of this happened less than a week ago. An estimated 1,000 university students from the Youth Alliance against Media Monsters (YAMM) spent their New Year's Eve at Liberty Square to protest what they considered to be Want Want China Times' monopolization of Taiwan media.

Want Want's purchases of China Network Systems (CNS) and Next Media have triggered a heated debate. Many members of opposition parties, university professors and students argue the acquisition could lead to media monopolization, thereby endangering press freedom. In the words of Nat Bellocchi, a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, “this takeover would be alright if Tsai was a pro-democracy media magnate who respected the freedom of the press and journalistic and editorial independence”.

But, how do you define “pro-democracy media magnate?” Who is to decide whether a media magnate is qualified to run a newspaper, a TV station or news website? Another news outlet? Here is the problem again, according to Brooke Gladstone, “The media landscape is so cluttered with mirrors facing mirrors that we can't tell where an image begins or ends.”

Although power has changed twice between the ruling and opposition parties over the last 10 years, Taiwan's polarised media can't separate lies from truth. Even worse, we've seen an increasing polarisation of public opinion and less truth in broadcasting. Most people are now disillusioned with the media which has turned into an arena for political power struggles.

In 2007, for instance, a Taiwanese newspaper digitally removed the United Daily News' Wang Shaw-lan from a photo of a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. The Liberty Times reporter said she edited out the publisher, standing in between two other VIPs, because the picture was too large and that she was not an “essential presence”.

Two years earlier, Taipei City Councilor Mike Wang, who also was at that time a successful TV host and a member of the then-opposition party, was lambasted by the media and various restaurant operators after he doctored a video showing restaurant staff buying food from a funeral parlor.

The bottom line is: Taiwan has had a growing range of media choices, and newspapers have a long history of making up stories. But the thing is, you shouldn't buy everything you read and see. What readers should do is always look for excellent, complete, thorough, contextual news out there. If the new management of the Apple Daily doesn't understand that, they will quickly face an exodus of their readers.


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