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Taiwan: Fabricated News

On March 28th, TVBS, the TV station which has been long mocked as “TV Bull Shit”, broadcast some footage that caught the public's eyeballs. The footage, which showed gangster Chou Cheng-pao threatening his former gangster boss with guns, was later broadcast by other cable TV news channels. However, not until the investigation did the police find that the footage was actually a pseudo news shot by TVBS reporter Shi Chen-kang with the help of the gangster.

The fabricated news caused public outrage. Muser, who wrote three articles to criticize TVBS, pointed out that it was not the first time TVBS invented news. He indicated that the bias reports in daily life were more difficult to cope with than the dramatic pseudo news:

今天 TVBS 繼瀝青鴨捏造新聞事件之後,又爆發 TVBS 自導自演捏造「歹徒持槍嗆聲」新聞事件的醜聞,如果不是這個新聞牽涉到刑法,引起警方調查,這個新聞絕不會被閱聽人知道是經過自導自演、刻意捏造的新聞,而其他不涉及刑法、不曾被你仔細檢閱且注意過的新聞、甚至無法追究這些新聞人員相關新聞責任的報導,你又該怎麼辦呢?

After the invented news of removing ducks’ feathers with tar, today TVBS has another scandal of making up the news featuring a gangster’s threatening with firearms. Were it not for the police’s investigation because the news is concerned with criminal law, the truth that this news is invented would not be disclosed. Not to mention those news which are not concerned with criminal law and are never examined by the public, what would you do with them when it is hard to make the reporters responsible for those news?

Seeing the mistake of TVBS, other media blurred the footage immediately and criticized TVBS for inventing the news without any self reflection. Long-term media observer Benla condemned such attitude:

其它新聞台有什麼資格爽!昨天播周政保播的很開心,今天大家都在打馬賽克,沒什麼比這個更無恥的了!

It is not righteous for other media to judge TVBS at all. Yesterday they all followed TVBS and broadcasted the same footage of Chou, and they blur it today. Nothing can be more shameful than this!

Bad Mouth, the reporter in PTS, was soothed by the modest decision of PTS. Instead of following the trend to show the footage, PTS reprimanded news stations for broadcasting it. She advised other news stations not to hit TVBS when it was down, because “is it not all of you who got the footage and helped the gangster to threaten others by broadcasting it?”

Facing the critiques all around, TVBS decided to take them up without defending themselves. The call-in TV show Speaking on Your Mind at 2100 hosted by the general manager Lee-Tao(李濤) prolonged its runtime from one hour to three hours, receiving all the criticisms without interruption until the audiences hung up the phone themselves. They even arranged news director Pan Tzu-yin(潘祖蔭) appearing in the show to take the blame. Sarcastically, the “self-criticism” of TVBS resulted in a dramatic rise in audience rating. Tenz said deridingly, “What a genius to condemn its own employee on one hand while earning both audience rating and advertising fee on the other!” The cartoonist Mr. Zeng drew a series of comics for on What the hell? Everything’s gone after the apology?

Twango Taiwan

NCC (National Communications Commission), which is in charge of the management of cable television, decided to fine TVBS and TVBS-N each for one million dollars (total sum of two million dollars) and asked TVBS to replace its general manager Lee-Tao (李濤). The general manager finally resigned and made an announcement that he hoped his resignation could “stop vicious attacks on TVBS.” The statement provoked more criticism.

Regarding NCC's decision on the fine, some thought it overdone while others consider it not enough. Both media-reform NGOs, Media Watch and Campaign for Media Reform, criticized that the punishment was “insufficient but over-exaggerated at the same time.

They indicated that the supervising office should not interfere with internal affairs of the media; the request on the alteration of management staff was merely a stopgap measure which could not solve the structural problem of dog-eat-dog competition in this business. Besides, the scandal revealed the loophole and deficiency of the relevant law. Responding to these problems, NCC should make amendments to the law as soon as possible and take the blunder of TVBS into consideration when renewing the broadcasting license in the future.

Compared with the harsh attacks on TVBS management staffs, the two reporters fired in this event received many support from their colleagues. Having been a journalist for seven to eight years, An Ping Ke (安平客)wrote an article “We Can Do Nothing” to lament the severe working environment of media, where reporters have to betray their souls in order to earn a living. To attract the public attention, distortion of the news becomes the SOP (standard operating procedure) for news processing. What should reporters do when all the media become another “TV Bull Shit”. For An Ping Ke the answer is “We can do nothing.”

In his blog, Benla quoted a remark from a former TVBS reporter, who thought that these two reporters did make an unbearable mistake, but they had contributed lots of exclusives to the company. “The company gets benefits by broadcasting those exclusives, but when they get into trouble, where is the company? Does it pay the bail and hire a lawyer for them? I don’t think so. However, it is the news values internalized by the company that makes them violate the news ethics.”

In “Lee Should Apologize to Shi”(李濤,該向史鎮康道歉), press reporter HJB quoted a line from the film Infernal Affairs(無 間道), “If I can choose to be a good people, why being a bad guy?” He pointed out that the structural factor which sank media workers into depravity was “the anxiety driven by market competition, which gnaws media workers’ insistence on news ethics.” In letters-to-the-editor column, senior reporter Caroline Lin (林照真)also indicated that advertising system was to blame for such a media chaos. She said that the overcrowded TV channels in Taiwan and the extremely low audience rating, accompanied with improper advertising system, together shape a distorted media environment where news stations are subject to audience rating which the advertising fee is paid upon. Attracting the audience’s attention becomes the top principle prior to the quality of the news. When audience rating rules and producing sensational news is the easiest way to pursue it, journalists can do nothing but slaved by audience rating, sacrificing their dignity as well as professional ideology.

As audience, quite a number of internet users decided to improve media environment by their own effort. The net users in News100 made a list of advertisers with phone numbers who paid to Speaking on Your Mind at 2100 on March 28th and 29th. They launched a campaign to boycott the advertisers and protest on the phone. Besides, adopting the idea of a previous activity “Rejecting Bad Media, Count Me In,” Tenz started a campaign “Articulations: Skip News Channels Together,” in which he and other net users worked together to teach people how to set TV in the mode of automatically skipping particular channels.

The scandal of pseudo news had resulted in a big public reaction. However, as the media reformers suggested, it might be another turning point:

這並不是單一的偶發事件,而是整體惡質台灣媒體文化的縮影。然而,若是新聞台能因此深刻反省,主管機關NCC為所當為,記者也開始團結反抗惡質的組織文化與媒體老闆違反新聞專業的無理要求,並且民眾一起對抗媒體暴力,那麼這起新聞史上集體的可恥事件,也將開啟新聞環境脫胎換骨的新契機。

This scandal is not a sole occurrence in the society but an epitome of wretched media culture in Taiwan. However, owing to this event, if news stations can reflect on themselves; NCC can properly exert its authority of supervising; the reporters are prompted to unifying themselves to fight against the unreasonable demands from the boss, and the public can thus fight against media violence together, then this scandal, which is a shameful event for all of us in the history of press, is going to be a chance for improving our media environment.

This article was written by fool fitz and nausicaa, both are GV Chinese Project Team members.

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