Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oops, we did it again!

Perhaps the swellest thing about being members of Taiwan's media is that we all know there's lots of room for improvement. It should go without saying that we are all committed to being the best darned, most thoroughly ethical journalists anywhere. The problem is that we all get on our high horses to kick the one that's down -- really hard -- whenever one goes down; then we seem to forget about ethics for a few weeks or months until the newest media-related scandal breaks out.

Last time, it was a TVBS reporter filming a gangster brandishing his plastic weapons and threatening his old boss -- and then claiming the footage was sent in by the gangster.

This time, it's SET (Sanli; 三立) TV airing a documentary (it produced on contract to the government; more on that later) on the 228 massacre and showing footage of KMT soldiers shooting captured Communists in Shanghai while a person describes the shooting of civilians by KMT soldiers in Keelung (Jilong; 基隆), in northern Taiwan.

KMT members are predictably upset about this. Now that they've discovered the outrage -- the documentary was aired two months ago -- they're saying it's another example of stirring up ethnic hatred against so-called Mainlanders. SET TV claims ignorance. Their argument seems to be: Well, this museum honoring one of the 228 victims sent us the footage and we thought it looked pretty good behind the execution narrative. It's not like we put up caption saying, "KMT soldier killing innocent civilian in Keelung.

News channels in Taiwan love to report on the lapses of their peers. They especially love it when that peer is highly rated - and SET and TVBS are both very popular. So this gives all the other channels a chance to play and replay lots of SET footage to score higher ratings for themselves. Meanwhile, one could imagine SET is losing ratings at this moment since viewers reason that you can't trust an interested party to report objectively. In any case, you can watch the key SET clips on any news channel now just as you could watch TVBS clips on any channel several weeks ago.

This could be a very good time to beef up ethics guidelines. But who has the time to think about that when there's ratings to grab? And next week, another story will take precedence and everyone, including SET, will forget about ethics again. It's hard to say if anything will change.

The government is not really of much use in establishing a better environment. Right now, the GIO (till recently the agency in charge of media regulation) is back on its heels since it commissioned the documentary. The GIO doesn't have much of an argument against opposition critics who say it's a lapdog of the DPP administration. The NCC (National Communications Commission) is the current regulator (at least until its legitimacy is revoked). Members of the NCC (appointees were all nominated by opposition parties by proportional representation; there are no DPP nominees sitting on the NCC as the ruling party disputes the legitimacy of the commission) are no doubt looking forward to heaping scorn on the GIO, SET and anyone else involved in the documentary.

KMT lawmakers say there was no proper tender announcement. This is surprising, since if the GIO were to indiscriminately hand out pork, you'd think they'd just shove it FTV's way, since FTV (Formosa TV 民視) has the right political stripes.The only substantive change this sorry episode is likely to engender is that SET will probably think twice before it accepts contracts from the GIO.

So basically, the KMT gets an opportunity to go on the offensive regarding a media project that documents its deplorable actions 60 years ago. The GIO demonstrates its incompetence. SET TV claims it's innocent of an ethics lapse since it too is incompetent. And the circus continues to proceed we know not where.

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