Wang Chien-ming and the Taiwan Media
Morry Gash / AP
First, from Taipei Times, this is the story that everybody knows already:
New York Yankees pitcher Wang Chien-ming yesterday issued an open letter announcing that he will no longer accept any interviews with Taiwanese media. Wang said that he was disappointed by the way that the furor created by the Taiwanese press had affected his family's privacy. "I am very disappointed about the way the Taiwanese print and television media has recently handled personal issues about my background. The invasion of my entire family's privacy has caused tremendous stress and discomfort," the letter read.
Wang was referring to the behavior of the Taiwanese media following an interview with the New York Times, which was published on Aug. 13.
During the interview, Wang revealed that he had been adopted. In the following days, Taiwanese media went into overdrive covering Wang's family, with dozens of TV and print reporters descending on Wang's hometown of Tainan and stalking his family members for interviews, which enraged Wang. "Due to the stress suffered by my family in Taiwan, I have made the difficult decision of refusing to accept any more interviews by members of the Taiwanese media, until further notice," the letter said, which was published on the front page of the Chinese-language United Evening News yesterday.
According to the New York Times story, Wang said that he found out that his biological father was in fact a man he knew as his uncle. Wang's parents had no children of their own, and offered to raise him. They later had a daughter, who is two years younger. "I didn't feel anything in particular," he said. "I felt it was all right, like I had two fathers," Wang was quoted as saying in the New York Times interview.
Wang had not suspected the revelation about his personal life would generate so much activity in the Taiwanese media. "I hope going forward, you will focus your coverage on my performance on the field. Please stop harassing my family members about this private issue," Wang said in the letter.
What about the other side of the story? What have the Taiwan media got to say for themselves?
The following is a column written by 姚瑞宸, an Apple Daily reporter who is the president of the Baseball Writers Association in Taiwan.
(Apple Daily) The Wang Chien-ming (王建民) Affair: Who is Right? August 22, 2006.
The news that Wang Chien-ming will be declining interviews caused a shock wave among our colleagues. On the afternoon of the next day, we held an "emergency executive meeting." I spent almost two hours on drafting a "declaration" and then released it to the public with copies to the New York Yankees as well as the sports agent for Wang Chien-ming. Why did it take more than two hours to write a statement of only several hundred words? I realize now that I had not been sure what my thoughts were. This is not the say that the declaration was misleading, but I still insist that the right to privacy of public figures should be protected when the public interest is not involved. That is the reason why I believe that there was nothing wrong with Wang Chien-ming declining interviews. But should the "right to know" be emphasized so much? That was why I had such a difficulty time in writing.
"The right to know" is the responsibility conferred by society upon reporters. The right belongs to the people, and the reporters are doing their jobs to satisfy the people's right. On account of such a right, the reporters' work then become legitimized. Yet, "the right to know" does not extend without limits. That is why the Association and I insist on defending "privacy that does not involve public interest."
But it has been a long time that our news media have lived by that. The Taiwan audience are accustomed to indulging in other people's private matters. But the Wang Chien-ming affair has brought the public's requirements of their media back to the highest standards of classical journalism. This shift was so sudden that the "trouble-making" media could not adjust quickly enough.
The most obvious examples are the daily entertainment news. The love affairs between Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai/Patty Hou, Chilin Lin tumbling off the horse ... these were offered to the audience in wave after wave. These are private affairs and do not involve professional activities or the public interest, but the audience never gets tired in its delight. These artists use publicity for commercial exploitation, and therefore they are willing to be misused by the media in this way.
Similarly, professional baseball is a commercial activity. From the games to the players, there has to be maximum added value in order to attract the baseball fans to willingly pay money to watch the games. Unfortunately, the interactive ecology between "the audience and the media" in Taiwan allows the added values to be exploitative and abusive. Thus, before the Athens Olympics, Chang Tai-shan (張泰山)'s love affair was reported in Next Weekly and Huang Yi-lung (黃龍義) was heavily covered for public defecation by the United Daily newspapers. When Chang Tai-shan's privacy was invaded, did the baseball fans erupt in anger? The defecation affair was just a minor matter within the Taiwan team, but it was called a national shame and Huang had to bow and apologize in public. Why did the baseball fans not condemn the media back then?
"The invasion of privacy" may not be the standard by which the baseballs fans and the readers judge media activities. Instead, it is an emotion.
The baseball fans support Wang Chien-ming but not Chang Tai-shan and Huang Lung-yi because the latter did not make the fans mad. Wang Chien-ming's highly publicized letter ignited the public. What was ignited were the hidden explosives about the accumulated discontent with the unprofessionalism of sports media and, even worse, the disappointment with professional baseball in Taiwan. Wang Chien-ming is only the least factor that caused the blow-up.
This affair began with the issue of the adopted son, but I must admit that once again, the local media was abusing Wang Chien-ming. I can only say that the people involved in covering this piece of news misjudged. The readers have not changed their fondness for tabloid journalism and tabloid news continues to sell. But the media did not anticipate that following up on the New York Times report did not give them a legitimate excuse or that Wang Chien-ming's reaction would generate such a huge response. On this affair, irrespective what role I may or may not have played therein, I must apologize to the general public as a reporter. However, I also ask the audience members to think, "If tabloid journalism is wrong, then should you keep reading it?"