Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gangsta Pap 2: Would-be Coppola at TVBS fired

It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.

All of the Chinese and English newspapers are running front page reports today with the story of how TVBS reporters helped film a mobster threatening his capo (see UPDATE below as of 9 pm 3/29). The pro-Blue China Post reports:

Axed were Shih Chen-kang for taping the video and his chief Chang Yu-kun for lying about the news source, a TVBS statement said.

Two TVBS editing supervisors in Taipei were disciplined for failure to ascertain the source whom Shih, the correspondent in Nantou, and Chang claimed was Chou Cheng-pao, a gangster who displayed weapons while threatening to kill his mob boss Liu Jui-lung.

Pan Tsu-yin and Sun Chia-jui were each given one demerit. Sun was relieved of her concurrent job as city editor.

The Taichung correspondents told the supervisors the source could not be identified. The two supervisors then edited the tape, which was claimed to have been produced by Chou Cheng-pao himself.

The pro-Green Taipei Times emphasized the responsibility of the organization as a whole for the affair, which among other things provided a fascinating glimpse into the way the news is created on Taiwan:

In its statement, TVBS said an internal investigation had found that Shi had helped Chou film the video.

TVBS news director Pan Tzu-yin (潘祖蔭) and vice news director Sun Chia-juei (孫嘉蕊) were also given citations for their lack of oversight, the statement added.

According to the TVBS, Shi explained that Chou asked him for help on Saturday afternoon. He decided to make the video because he found it newsworthy, the station cited Shi as saying.

Shi asked Chang not to tell TVBS managers about how he got the footage, TVBS said.

Yang Ying-lan (楊英蘭), an official with the National Communications Commission (NCC), disagreed with TVBS' position that the two reporters were solely responsible for the incident.

"The footage has been broadcasted again and again," she said. "How can the management at the station get away with simply saying that it was just the reporters' fault?"

When asked if the incident will cause the station to loose its broadcast license, Yang said the penalty will ultimately be determined by the commission's members.

If the commission finds the Chou video to be a serious violation, the station will be asked to stop broadcasting for three days.

A while back TVBS came under fire from the DPP for being a 100% foreign-owned Chinese tool, whose Chairman once ran the Hong Kong broadcasting authority. TVBS is in blatant violation of the media laws, but the DPP did nothing until it got out of hand, as I noted back in 2005. It would be nice if the GIO shut down TVBS and the people who collaborated with the gangster did time. The problem is that having failed to do it all the other times, the government has left itself open to the charge that closing TVBS is simply an act of partisan politics.

In addition to the usual questions of the role of media in society, this affair also highlights the critical problem of the lack of a civic culture, and the relational nature of ethics in Chinese society. What the reporter did was both unethical and illegal. Nobody seemed to care until, as the Liberty Times pointed out this morning, a police investigation of the tape showed that it hadn't been delivered to the mailbox as TVBS claimed. It's obvious that this kind of thing is only the tip of the iceberg at TVBS. There must be many similar "reports" that are unethical collaborative affairs between the reporter and his news source.

It is hard to say what the scariest part of this whole sordid affair was. The complicity of the media? Well, it is TVBS. Was it the mobster with an itch to be a movie star? Not really. For me, it was yet another instance of the amazing ability of suspects to evade lock up. The China Post gave the following background on the murdered boss:

Lin, 47, was shot at a teahouse in downtown Taichung last Friday. He succumbed the following day.

He was ambushed a few days after he had been released on bail. He went into hiding in China after the kidnapping of the city council speaker.

On October 25, Lin was arrested by Chinese police at Shenzhen near Hong Kong. After a successful negotiation, Taichung police had Lin extradited on January 4 last year. He was indicted on July 11.

Prosecutors demanded that Lin be sentenced to death, but a judge released him on bail.

Released a mob boss on bail? Disgusting.

UPDATE: The gangster was caught this afternoon.

Taichung police is interrogating Chou Cheng-pao, a member of the Celestial Way Gang, who also claimed in the TV footage he was responsible for three recent shooting incidents in central Taiwan.

Chou hid in a deserted gravel yard when police made the arrest at 4:45pm. He is wearing a bullet-proof vest and in posession of four pistols, police said.

The footage, shot by TVBS reporter Shi Chen-kang, prompted the cable TV company to fire Shi and his supervisor Chang Yu-kun Wednesday night on grounds they claimed it was provided by an anonymous source.

Opposition politicians have cited the footage as evidence of the government's ineptitude in fighting crime after TVBS aired it Monday evening and other cable TV outlets followed suit the next day.

As I said in the earlier post:

But what you won't read on ESWN is that TVBS is Chinese-owned and 100% supportive of the KMT and China -- it is a pro-Blue station to the core. A propaganda staple of the Blues is that Taiwan's society is in a mess -- and of course, videos threatening violence and gangster killings are proof positive that the propaganda is correct. What a coincidence, eh? This gangster is so useful, if he didn't exist, he'd have to be invented.

This isn't just some reporter being stupid. He knew full well what he was shooting and why he was shooting it, and how it would look and be used by his fellow travelers at TVBS. This is a High Context society in which everyone knows the score and what is expected of them.

UPDATE II: The Chinese language newspapers reported it yesterday, and the English language papers have it today. TVBS lied when it said it found out about the fakery through its own investigation:

[TVBS] said its own investigation showed that the film was shot by its reporter Shih Chen-kang and that Shih's superior Chang Yu-kun, had helped.

But the National Police Agency yesterday refuted TVBS' statement, and said the police were suspicious about the video footage before TVBS admitted misconduct.

Hou said when the police were analyzing the video footage, they found the camera was held in a stable manner, which indicated it might have been produced by professionals.

In addition to the professional shooting of the video which roused suspicion, Hou said that two fingerprints collected from the motel where the film was shot were not Chou's fingerprints. The police also discovered that the envelope which the video was placed in had no stamps on it, he added.

The police contacted TVBS for more information, Hou said, adding that he received a phone call from a TVBS supervisor on Wednesday and confirmed police suspicions that the video might have been produced by media professionals.

Some local reporters and audience members also criticized TVBS for immediately firing the two reporters before the controversy was cleared up, as they suspected that the company has tried to deny its responsibility over the negligence by shifting the blame onto the two employees. At least three demonstrations were staged outside TVBS headquarters in Taipei yesterday against the video controversy.

The government now has a robust excuse to shut this station down. Let's see if they can find the spine.


Anonymous said...

Good job Michael, don't let TVBullSh*t get away with it. They've been doing this for far too long. Brainwashing the public!!!

Anonymous said...

The difference between the China Post and Taipei Times take on the situation is very interesting. The China Post is content to emphasize that hands have been slapped for the misdeeds while the Taipei Taimes takes a broader view of it. The mentality seems to be that "if you don't get caught you haven't done anything wrong".