Monday, September 10, 2007

Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation Salon on Media and Democracy

Can't find something? Don't feel like carrying a map? Since I carry my camera everywhere, I just take a picture of the map....

On Saturday I stopped by the Lung Ying-tai Foundation for its Salon on Media and Democracy in Taiwan. The Taipei Times reported:

Ethical journalism is the bottom line for responsible media outlets, a prominent media academic told a forum in Taipei yesterday.

"Good quality journalism is good business," said Doreen Weisenhaus, a lawyer and director of the University of Hong Kong's Media Law Project, during the forum entitled "Responsible Media in Democracy," hosted by the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation.

Weisenhaus, a former legal and city editor for the New York Times, cited a controversy over former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair in emphasizing the importance of credibility and reputation for news agencies.

Weisenhaus, who has been both a lawyer and a NY Times editor, intelligent and funny, was probably the wrong person for this forum, since she had no Taiwan experience or knowledge. She works at a university in Hong Kong and had quite a bit to say about the experiences of the former British colony, however. Also present as moderator of the discussion were the lanky, good-looking, well spoken AIT PR honcho Thomas Hodges, and a Taiwan media personality, Hsu Lu.

A slide from Thomas Hodge's presentation.

I came early to get a good seat, and was guided to my seat by one of the volunteers, Renee, who told me that I needn't sit at a table since "those are for the old people." Thank you Renee, you made my day. Outside the table area the seats were crowded tightly together, and it became clear later that the venue was much too small for the crowd, and the stage for the discussants too low.

Stools await listeners.

The Salon began with a presentation by Hodges on the media in Taiwan. Hodges had obviously done his homework and put together a nice piece talking about how things have changed -- in 1987 there were just 3 TV channels, now there are over 130, just 31 newspapers but now more than 170 major ones, with hundreds if the minor papers are taken into account.

Hodges gave several examples of the craziness of our Golden Retriever media in Taiwan, including the Chu Mei-feng scandal sex tape scandal (Chu herself was a veteran user of secret taping), the outcry over the pictures of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's terrible auto accident, the photograph of the crocodile with the human arm in its mouth from the Kaohsiung Zoo biting incident, the west point cadet sex set-up (Hodges either did not know of, or ignored, the political aspects of the set-up), and the cardboard bun scandal from China. Interestingly Hodges asked the audience whether they thought the buns or the apology for the story was fake. Unanimously, the audience chose the apology as the fake part, saying the buns were real. With the exception of the buns, the examples Hodges chose were all pretty superficial examples of media craziness in Taiwan, and he stayed away from the explosive political aspects of Taiwan's media, which are the real problem.

Weisenhaus comments as Hsu Lu looks on.

Weisenhaus then spoke next. She spent a long time on her own biography and her experience with the Jayson Blair case. Since copying is so common here, I was moved to wonder whether anyone in media here even thought much about the case -- most likely it was dismissed with a shrug. Weisenhaus did discuss the situation in Hong Kong, which is somewhat like Taiwan.

Thomas Hodges frames a question.

Up after Weisenhaus was Hsu Lu, who related anecdotes from her many years of media experience in Taiwan. She pointed out that reporters in Taiwan face terrible pressure to produce, are poorly paid, cannot say no to their bosses, nor to their paper's political slant. Hsu also said that Apple Daily has changed the way news is done in Taiwan with its bold graphics, and said that the Golden Age of news, when "we could criticize and we were proud of being journalists" had passed. Hsu did speak briefly on the internet media, which she said had no ethics of their own, a state she described as "weird." On the other hand, internet media are an example of democracy, and that's good, she observed. Her comments were echoed by a heavyweight journalism prof from NTU, who said that if graduates had ethics, editors didn't want them.

The Salon.

On the whole the discussion was totally conventional. The discussants all agreed that deadline pressures and commercialization were a global problem, but in many ways Taiwan's media situation is unique; not many nations have an anti-government TV station, TVBS, wholly owned by residents of a nation dedicated to snuffing the government out of existence. Dedication to ethics is always good to advocate, but in practice what does it mean? For example, the issue of paying informants was raised. In the US the practice is illegal, but newspapers get around it by reimbursing for expenses. In the UK it is OK. In Taiwan, where guanxi (connections) networks are fed and watered by exchanges of gifts and favors, and where ethics are relational, how could the US ethical practice be implemented, except in a wholly hypocritical way?

I did meet some interesting people, including several students, all of whom spoke excellent English and were happy to talk to me.

Dinner at Jolly.

After the discussion I repaired to Jolly, near the Nanjing E./Fuhsing N. metro stop, for the best beer in Taiwan, their killer Scottish ale, and some good discussions of politics and current events with some pretty savvy local expats. Also stopped by Hooters, where, if you look past the hot waitresses, the service was excellent. I guess that's sort of like saying I read Playboy for the articles.....

Making a dish.


Robert said...

Thanks for taking the time to write about the conference, Michael. I was really bummed when I found that there was another conference I would have loved to attend that took place when I had to be at work.

The media in Taiwan is one of the aspects of the political sphere here that interests me the most. I've often wondered how much things would change if there was a respectable (Chinese language) press here in Taiwan.

I'm still waiting to be able to understand Chinese better so that I can veg-out in front of the dozen Taiwanese news networks and start my "research."

Also, it was nice to finally meet you, all though shortly, the other night. Let me know when you're coming up again, and hopefully we can meet up.

MJ said...

i was there, in the audience. i did see u ask a questiion about estonia:) I meant to say halo to u at the end of the conference, but you seemed to have left. maybe next time la...keke