Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press

In the following are the translations of the primary documents in this journalism-related controversy:

The Central News Agency's report about the latest media monitoring report from the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press

The editorial piece in China Times

The essay by China Times deputy editor-in-chief James Chang

The Apple Daily coverage of the controversy

Blogger Portnoy Zheng in an Apple Daily opinion piece

(Central News Agency via Yam News)  January 2, 2007.

[in translation]  

The Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press published its latest "Newspaper Monitoring Report."  According to the report, there were 33 and 34 blooper news report in the months of October and November respectively.  The Foundation urged the newspaper industry and various sectors in society to pay attention to the worsening effect of political corrosion.

The Foundation analyzed the five major newspapers: Liberty Times, United Daily, China Times, Apple Daily and United Evening News.  It monitored the five newspapers with respect to "source of information," "verification of news," "balanced reporting," "news writing" and "media responsibility."

The monitoring report pointed how that the number of bloopers had increased significantly over the 15 in June-July and the 20 in August-September ...

The Foundation reported that of the 33 bloopers in October, China Times had 13, United Daily had 12, United Evening News had 4, Apple Daily had 3 and Liberty Times had 1; of the 34 bloopers in November, China Times had 16, United Daily had 10, United Evening had 5, Apple Daily had 2 and Liberty Times had 1.

... The monitoring report also found that the blooper news were principally "exposÚs" or citations of other media reports without detailed verification.  The erroneous news reports were seldom corrected.  Most of them were handled through follow-up news reports and only a few had correction notes due mostly to the threat of lawsuits rather than inaccurate reporting.

(China Times)  Poking Holes In the Hypocritical Masks of the Royalist Media.  January 4, 2007.

[in translation]

One reason why the public space in Taiwan has degenerated so quickly in the past few years is the vicious competition among the media.  But there is another factor that most theorists have ignored, and that is the emergence of so many royalist media that embraced the thighs of the ruling group.  These media specialize in attacking those "media unfriendly to the rulers" and they readily label opponents as "unificationists"; even more absurd beyond the royalist media, there are also royalist media monitoring organizations which act as if they are serious and objective monitors and use extremely anti-intellectual and unprofessional methods to attack the other media.  Recently, the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of  Public Harm from the Press published its monitoring report and the Liberty Times responded in order to attack the other industry players.  This is the ultimate development of the "anti-intellectual" culture.

According to this royalist media monitoring organization, Liberty Times is the newspaper with the fewest number of bloopers over the past two months.  This "finding" was consistent with the other observations made by this organization in the past.  If Liberty Times was really the "nearly flawless" newspaper as packaged by this organization, we would have nothing to say.  But the problem is that this newspaper is known to frequently advertise itself but it fails in even the most basic "media professionalism."

Many people have noticed that the American magazine TIME listed the scandals around President Chen and his family members as the fifth entry in its top 10 scandals around the world during the past year.  The Taiwan media have all reported on it, with the sole exception of Liberty Times which did not say a single word about it.  It is as if this piece of globally known news items had vanished in thin air.

The scandals that the First Family is involved with are familiar to readers in Taiwan.  From the Taiwan Trading Corp insider trading case, the SOGO gift vouchers to the state affairs funds corruption case, these have been the focus of the active reporting and commentary by almost all of the media.  But when Liberty Times dealt with these globally eye-catching scandals, they almost always watered them down until they vanished from sight as if they didn't exist.  Even if they report on them, it will be filled with the partial viewpoints of the official statements.  It is one thing to water down the information, but Liberty Times went further when the state affairs fees case broke out because it actively coordinated with former President Office's officials to fabricate the so-called Southern Route case with stories such as "President's Office officials met Mr. A in front of Taipei Number One Girls' School to pick up receipts" and so on; these exclusive reports turned about to be completely fabricated lies according to the investigation of the prosecutor!  The fabrication of lies on behalf of the ruling organization cannot be simply characterized as "bloopers."  But this genuine case of "public harm" was not even mentioned in the report from the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press!

Liberty Times does not have a public opinion polling center, and it has never trained any interviewers.  The newspaper does not usually conduct any public opinion polls.  It does not even commission any public opinion polls.  But on the eve of the county/city governor/mayor election the year before last, it suddenly announced that Chou Hsi-wei and Lo Wen-chia were separated only by 2%; on the eve of the Taipei/Kaohsiung mayoral election at the end of last year, Liberty Times announced that Huang Chun-ying and Chen Chu were separated only by 0.29% in its public opinion poll.  Since this was not very different from the final result, the newspaper attacked other media for fabricating "false public opinion results."  For the sake of public trust, our own public opinion polling center has openly asked Liberty Times to explain the methodology and questionnaire for this "suddenly appearing" "public opinion polling center" that was so miraculously precise.  This is a basic requirement that any public opinion pollster must explain to their readers.  As of this time, there has been no explanation from that newspaper!  Has the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press said a thing on this?  Nothing!

Take the case of the flag-raising ceremony on New Year's Day when seven or eight military policemen manhandled an anti-Bian female protestor: this news item was featured prominently in almost all of the media.  After all, when the military policemen of the Republic of China choked a female in a Taipei street until she passed out for merely chanting "Down with Ah Bian!", this is not a minor issue.  Even Defense Minister Lee Jye was angered and wanted to hold people accountable.  The surprising thing was that there was not a single word about the incident in Liberty Times on the next day!  With this kind of "news filtering" in its professional practice, whatever happened to the Taiwan readers' right to know?

For a long time, Liberty Times has defended the wrongful acts of the rulers, watered down all unfavorable news and even cooperated with individual officials to fabricate news.  It is appropriate to label Liberty Times as "royalist media."  That newspaper often functions as the foot soldier of the rulers and smeared all the other media which want to provide a more balanced coverage and to fulfill their watchdog duties.  That newspaper also works with royalist media monitoring organizations to rate other media reports.  We also found out that the leader of this royalist media monitoring organization was not only a board member of the national news agency, but he is also an advisor to the English-language Taipei Times in the Liberty Times group.  He also writes a regular column in Liberty Times, consisting mostly of slanders about the competitors of Liberty times.  How can this inability to separate roles and observe professional trust and these actions to attack dissent not destroy the public domain that was built up after so much strife?  The people of Taiwan, is it time to stand up and say "no" to these royalist media?

(China Times)  By James Chang.  January 4, 2007.

[in translation]

Incorrect news reports ought to be corrected and criticized.  But some absurd media evaluations have distorted the truth of the matter and demeaned the watchdog role that the media ought to play in a democratic society.  There is a Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press in Taiwan.  Every two months, it offers a hit parade of so-called blooper reports on the five newspapers in Taiwan.  But when one studies its evaluation results and criteria, it is clear that this was a blooper evaluation that misleads the public and misplaces values.

In a diverse society, no matter how lacking in basic public trust the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press might be, its right to publish so-called evaluations ought to be respected.  But when these unfair evaluations are publicized by its model student Liberty Times, then this becomes a public harm that must be seriously objected to.

The most scary thing in the evaluations is the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press' understanding of what constitutes the "facts."  They believe that this is based upon the denials of the principals in the news report (an individual person, an government department, an organization).  Anything which violates the Foundation's "iron rule" will be considered a blooper report.

In terms of journalistic professionalism, the statements of the principals should obviously be presented in a balanced fashion.  But anyone with some kind of social experience will understand that the statements from the principals are only one part of the truth.  The principals in a news event, especially political figures, have various considerations and calculations.  They want to use the media to forward information, but they don't want to attract pressure on account of the exposure.  Therefore, they will tell the truth to the media in private and yet publicly deny having said so.  This occurs very frequently.  Sometimes, they will even lie in order to escape the consequences.  Such phenomena are innumerable in Taiwan politics.

Faced with these complex conditions, the professionally responsible media ought to investigate in depth.  They should provide the principals with the right to "deny," they have to protect their sources and they need to tell the truth to the readers.  But how come in the eyes of the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press, the model student is the one who covers up the truth on behalf of the rulers?

Actually, it is easy to list the so-called blooper news in the China Times according to the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press: "Annette Lu and Wang Jin-pyng form a political alliance," "Lee Teng-hui intends to establish a third power," "President Chen invites prosecutor Eric Chen for a meeting; suspicion of interference with judicial system" and so on.  These reports turned out to the true afterwards.  But the Foundation did not apologize to China Times for those blooper evaluations.  By contrast, the Foundation's top-rated Liberty Times cooperated with the principals and the President's Office to cover up on cases such as the First Lady using NT$270,000 in the SOGO voucher case, the President's son-in-law Chao Chien-ming's denial of involvement in the Taiwan Trading Corp case, the Southern Route project that the President's Office fabricated and so on, the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press did not consider those as bloopers.  The difference is that if the Foundation believes that the media are "faithfully" reporting the "denials," then it is a good and well-behaved media outlet.  If that is the case, then what is the difference between this type of media and the rulers' mouthpiece?

In its monitoring report, the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press pointed out that certain media made "preposterous, obscene and unconfirmed reports."  The language was chilling.  But what does "verification" mean?  What does the Foundation think it is?  In its report, the Foundation believes that professional duty in verification is to confirm with the sources of the news.  For example, in the bloopers such as "President Bian asked Wang Jin-pyng to form cabinet" or "Jeffery Koo will return to Taiwan if there is no political suppression," one ought to attempt to confirm directly with Wang and Koo and hear their personal responses.  So can one tell the truth just by reading the newspapers in an air-conditioned room?

Even more brilliant is that the "basis" used by the Foundation to establish that bloopers occurred in other newspapers are either based upon Liberty Times reports or "denials" from the President's Office or the ruling party.  Almost all of the evaluated reports are about political reports, and reports listed as "bloopers" all happened to be cases that were critical or negative towards the ruling party.  These many coincidences are truly astonishing.

It is not difficult to become the model student for the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press.  When you encounter a complex news event, you magnify the denials from the rulers.  When you encounter some news unfavorable to the rulers such that you are too embarrassed to defend them, you water them down or you can even avoid mentioning it at all.  As for truth-based interpretations or critical commentary, it is obvious better not to write anything.

Also, the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press has made a lot of evaluations.  Maybe the outside world should learn something about how it evaluates: for example, how many people are engaged in the evaluations? what is the theory behind these evaluations? are the funding sources tied to the government? are the leaders also serving at the national news agency, government evaluation committees or getting paid otherwise?  do they serve as advisors to specific media outlets?

The media environment in Taiwan is chaotic now, and it does require professional media monitoring.  But it cannot be the kind of blooper media monitoring done by the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press, and it cannot be the re-emergence of the royalist media in the authoritarian era! 

(Apple Daily)  January 5, 2007.

[in translation]

Yesterday, China Times took the rare step of using an editorial piece and a special article to criticize Liberty Times and the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press.  The articles asserted that Liberty Times is the "royalist media" and the Foundation is the "royalist media monitoring organization" and the two are working in cahoots against other industry players.  China Times and Liberty Times appear to be at war with each other.

On the day before yesterday, Liberty Times quoted the number of blooper news in October and November as determined by the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press.  Liberty Times pointed out that China Times led with the highest number, whereas Liberty Times had the fewest.  However, Liberty Times made a blooper in reporting that news, because the Foundation announced that China Times had 29 bloopers over the two months whereas Liberty Times added up only 26 bloopers.

Yesterday, China Times counterattacked with an editorial titled "Poking holes in the hypocritical masks of the royalist media" and labeled Liberty Times as the "royalist media that embraces the thighs of the ruling organization."  China Times singled out the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press's executive director Lu Shih-siang for serving as an advisor for the English-language Taipei Times which is in the Liberty Times group and to have a regular column in Liberty Times.  China Times challenged Lu for being "unable to separate the roles and lacking professional trust."

China Times deputy editor-in-chief James Chang also wrote that the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press should disclose whether it is subsidized by the Government Information Office and whether Lu Shih-siang is being paid as a board member of the Central News Agency.  Lu Shih-siang said yesterday that the Foundation has not received a cent from government organizations and their money is raised from the outside and personal donations.  He asked China Times why he should not be able to write for Liberty Times?  Why should he not be able to participate in the government evaluation committee or Central News Agency?  According to Lu, China Times was "cheapening itself" when it used an editorial essay to make an appalling personal attack against him.

Liberty Times said that it "declined to respond" to the criticisms in China Times.  United Daily News spokesperson George Shuang said that the assessment criteria should be determined with more input in order to reach a consensus rather than solely by the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press alone.  Apple Daily chief editor Chen Yu-hsin also made the criticism that the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Press sometimes has fuzzy standards and is subjective.  He also recommended that the Foundation quickly clarify the ambiguous relationship between its leader Lu Shih-siang and the Liberty Times group.

Media Watch Foundation chairman Kuan Chung-hsiang believes that both China Times and Liberty Times lack the ability to reflect and self-criticize and therefore fail to develop fully their positive potential towards social development.   The Chinese Cultural University Mass Communications Department associate professor Lai Hsiang-wei believes that the newspapers are engaged in a personal fight and they frequently smuggle their positions into news reports.  He called for China Times and Liberty Times to engage in more self-criticisms, run some readers' meetings and move in more positive directions in order to benefit their readers.

(Apple Daily)  By Portnoy Zheng.  January 6, 2007.

[in translation]

Recently Democratic Progressive Party chairman Yu Shyh-kun openly refused to be interviewed by China Times and this has once again brought a series of attacks and counter-attacks between political figures and media into the open.  Now another controversy has erupted as the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Media has issued its regular "newspaper monitoring report" and listed China Times as the newspaper with the most number of blooper news (the similarly pro-blue United News Daily is second on the list).  China Times counter-attacked with an editorial essay in which Liberty Times and the Foundation for the Prevention and Control of Public Harm from the Media were denounced as "royalist media" and "royalist media monitoring organzation."  It is regular fare to see Liberty Times denounce China Times and United Daily News as "unificationist media" and "pro-China media," while United Daily News works on the same front line in partnership with China Times.  It seems that another game of mutual scab-picking between the media has begun.  But what has that got to do with readers like ourselves?

The Taiwan media are unwilling to deal with their own biases in political news.  Instead, they use some very noble reasons such as "it is the responsibilty of the media to monitor political figures," "firmly hold on to the consciousness of Taiwan sovereignty" and so on in order to make excuses and cover up.  They are just fooling themselves and others.  Such being the case, let us discuss "bias"!

There are three ways in which the media are biased: "selective bias" means that they selectively present some of the facts even as they ignore other facts.  "Presentation bias" means that they use the page layout, time, place, sequencing and other details to highlight/emphasize or conceal/weaken certain news.  Finally, there is the "interpretative bias" which means that they give different interpretations to the same set of facts.  Actually, the media who are considered to be biased do not believe that bias is a problem, because this is just a means to reach a goal.  The goal is not any well-formulated long-range objective.  Rather, this is about interests, including commercial and political interests in the long and short ranges.

Media who work on behalf of special interests do not need to be distinguished by blue/green flavor.  They just evaluate their competitors and the market conditions and then they enter the market at the most favorable position.  Through continuous brand image building, they let the readers themselves choose the media that match their positions to consume (or be consumed).

The true problem caused by the biased media for the readers is that "they create communication obstacles among people because the news media try everything they can to cut off communication in order to maintain the media as the spokespersons of the apparent political camps."  Plainly spoken, this is to make the "pan-blue (pan-green) people have biases against the pan-green (pan-blue) people and refuse to communicate with each other, leaving the task to the mass media."  The mass media can continue to forge the biases and profit from the situation.

Creating news reports with empty and shallow discourse value is the inevitable way to achieve the goal.  The lack of communication material and the debasement of the discourse are the true obstacles, not the positions.  The empty and shallow news media deliberately played the role of the opponent to the readers in the other camp (e.g. the unificationist media or royalist media) in order to use the opposition from the outside to "corral" their own readers who are forced to choose their own side in the absence of choices.

When the media in Taiwan show such biases, it is easy to create a "third-person effect" which means that people believe that others are more likely to be influenced by the media.  For example, the pro-blue (same thing for green) media publish news that may not convince all the pro-blue readers.  But the pro-green readers think that all the pro-blue readers are manipulated by media information.  They get concerned and they quickly step to use information processes similar to mainstream media to reply with equally empty and shallow criticisms.  After the pro-blue readers read these criticisms, they feel that the pro-green readers are biased as well as disrespectful of the intelligence of the pro-blue readers ... this spiral of mutual attacks only sustains the interests of the media and politicians and cannot alter the structure.

Many people including myself are hoping that the Internet media can break through this stalemate.  If the Internet civic media wants to avoid the logical trap set up by the mainstream media, then the new readers must be more self-aware and know where the "strengths" of the mainstream media lie.  Then they must surpass them without hesitation and avoid combat with the media hacks from the mainstream media because whether you win or lose, they make money off it.