Were Taiwanese Media Too Quick to Deem Doomed TransAsia Pilots Heroes?

Taiwanese media reported that the pilots saved many Taipei citizens. (photo from CNA).

Taiwanese media reported that the pilots saved many Taipei citizens. (Photo from CNA).

A TransAsia’s airplane crashed into the Keelung River in Taiwan on February 4, killing at least 40 people. Before the authorities probed the cause of the accident, Taiwanese media concluded that the pilots were heroes, saying they “saved Taipei” by steering the doomed flight away from buildings, avoiding an even bigger calamity.

The coverage raised the eyebrow of some netizens, who criticized the media for reporting in a sensational manner by turning the tragedy into a hero drama.

In response to this, writer Jen-Chien Kuan penned “The shameful and ridiculous myth-making of the press” in a local online news portal Newstalk to criticize the media for their breathless reporting before the authorities had confirmed anything:


Before the Aviation Safety Council confirmed the cause of the accident, all major media outlets vied to idolize the pilots. If Keelung River was set to be the emergency route-to-avoid when aircrafts lose engine power, the pilots were simply following aviation safety protocol. What if upon the analysis of the “black box”, evidence reveals that the pilots erroneously shut down the functioning engine and caused two engines to lose power? If this is really the case, the pilots are not heroes but killers who are responsible for the death of 43 people on board. When everything remains so unclear, how can the media start writing the myth?

Kuan’s article was reported by local media and stimulated discussion online. Netizen Cheng-Feng Yang agreed that the media reports were too soon to draw conclusion on the crash:


The black box merely included the audio recording of the control cabin. Do not conclude until the flight recorder data comes out! However, the fact that the pilots skipped many important buildings remains indisputable.

Nan Nan Erh Ku Niang's post on mainland China online forum Tianya argued that it was possible that the pilots did contribute to the accident and took heroic action too:


I believed the Aviation Safety Council (ASC) initial analysis of the black box was conservative. The report just described what happened based on existing evidence. However, I was outraged by the comments of some netizens. Nearly all of them blamed ASC for taking sides with officials and shirking their responsibility. I know that Taiwanese media had been praising two pilots for their courage, but we should also make our judgment based on the professional investigation report. Granted that two pilots are heroes, it doesn't mean that heroes had played no part in causing the accident. How could we conclude that the pilots had made no mistake and deny the possibility of their misjudgment simply because they did something heroic?

In August 2014, following the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in Ukraine, killing, 298 people, of whom 193 were Dutch, a Taiwanese blogger Elrohir compared Taiwanese and Dutch media's narrative style on disaster report:


While getting used to the [sensational] reporting style of Taiwanese media, you could tell a huge difference when reading the Dutch reports on the deadly accident. Why did Taiwanese media always broadcast the breakdown of the victim's family’s to the entire country? Why did Dutch media manage to report on victims and their families in a respectful manner? If you ask me which media are better, I would definitely choose the Dutch. Their reports pay respect to the victims.

Bombarded by the continuous media reports on the tragedy, Sheng-Hsiang Yu, assistant professor in the Fo Guang University department of psychology, suggested a couple of measures for the audiences to keep their mind peaceful:

  1. 關掉電視,保護大腦
  2. 調整呼吸,學著放鬆
  3. 勇敢說愛,擁抱家人
  4. 做些簡單的好事
  1. Turn off the television and protect your brain.
  2. Breathe smoothly and relax.
  3. Dare to express love and embrace your family.
  4. Do something simple and kind.

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