Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: media outlets shut down

*Sigh* The Taipei Times reports that the government has ordered six TV stations to shut down. I have blogged on this imminent public relations disaster earlier this year. Today's report noted:
The government yesterday announced that it would not renew the operating licenses of TV news channel ETTV-S and six movie and variety channels, and said the stations must go off the air as of tomorrow.

The move by the Government Information Office (GIO) drew an immediate and sharp backlash from the stations and pan-blue legislators, who charged that it was a heavy-handed attempt to reign in media outlets that are critical of the government.

It's probably too early to tell exactly what is going on. It certainly isn't surprising that stations linked to the pan-Blue are in violation of the law, which is the usual pan-blue operating style, and there is certainly something amusing about seeing the two pro-authoritarian, anti-democracy parties screaming about press freedom. The PFP whip's remarks....

PFP caucus whip Sun Ta-chen (孫大千) said that the immediate backlash to the GIO's move only proves that the government has lost credibility.

"We'd really hate to see the government use the renewal of media operating licenses as an excuse to kidnap the media and curb press freedom," he said. "I'm calling on the public to open their eyes and see clearly exactly who is the stumbling block to media reform."

...have to be viewed in light of the fact that the PFP leader James Soong was head of the Ministry of Culture during the martial law period, and instrumental in curbing press freedom in Taiwan.

Yet, at the same time, it is highly probable that all the stations were more or less in violation, as even the GIO admits that the laws had gone unenforced for a long time. It would be well if the stations were allowed to make a token reform, and then permitted to broadcast again. There's no positive long-term gain from shutting down the media outlets, and as a PR move for the government overseas, it stinks.

No sooner do I post on discipline yesterday, when today, reviewing this decision, the Taipei Times, always the cheerleader for the DPP, argued that the media needs "discipline."

Taiwan, which covers an area of a mere 36,000km2 with a population of 23 million people, currently has more than 100 cable-TV channels to choose from. Such a high number is definitely a global miracle, symbolizing the freedom and diversity of the media in Taiwan, but also representing the vicious competition resulting from media saturation.


Although there are numerous news channels, most of them only follow or reproduce the contents of the print media, rather than creating something unique or distinctive. This has a lot to do with unprofessional journalists and inadequate training. In addition, the use of Satellite News Gathering (SNG) broadcast services has also been abused, leading to news coverage being sensationalized and the public mood becoming easily agitated. Although there are a lot of programs featuring talk shows with political topics, they are mostly ideology-driven, with the host and the guests often engaging in political bickering and unable to come to any agreement.

Imagine...not able to come to an agreement! Wow! No wonder they need disciplined.

UPDATE: Someone from one of the stations wrote into the Taipei Times:

Like all TV operators in Taiwan, we have wrestled with a desire to produce first-rate news and analysis while dealing with minute-by-minute ratings pressure to show sensationalistic content (which provide a ratings boost). Like our competitors, in far too many instances we have taken the sensationalistic route.

Now, our very survival is at stake. The GIO has made it clear that ETTV News' license renewal is conditional on improving the quality of news coverage and putting self-discipline mechanisms into place. Even as we try to appeal the loss of our other news channel's license, ETTV News will follow through on a promise to be a more responsible news provider and we will try to convince our competitors to join us in establishing an electronic media self-monitoring organization.

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