SETTV's Documentary On 228

It looks like United Daily Press is really going after SETTV (Sanlih E-Television) over its documentary of the 2/28 incident in Taiwan.  This is obviously the usual blue-green kind of political thing, but it also involves professional standards in journalism.

(United Daily Press)  Here is the situation.  The special documentary report on SETTV titled "60 years after 228" was hosted by veteran anchorwoman Chen Ya-lin (陳雅琳) and was broadcast between March 3 to March 7 in 13 episodes.  This documentary introduced the background of the 228 incident, the various uprisings and suppressions across Taiwan as well as the personal stories of several victims.  Apart from studio narrative footage, there were also interviews with scholars and participants, some re-enacted simulations with actors as well as a some documentary film footage and photographs.

The segment that is being challenged by United Daily Press is some black-and-white documentary footage that lasted about 20 seconds: 

Several soldiers escorted a man down from a truck.  The man was dressed in white, his hands were tied behind his back and there was a wooden sign on his back.  The man was then taken a few steps forward and then a soldier executed him in the middle of the street.  Next, two soldiers escorted one prisoner each, made the prisoners kneel on the ground and then executed them.  Civilian spectators can be observed on the side.  The three prisoners were all shot in the backs of their heads with pistols at close range.  The prisoners fell down on the ground immediately.  It was a shocking sight to behold.

In SETTV's special report, this same footage was repeated six to seven times across the episodes.  On one occasion, it appeared in the background while the hostess spoke.  The other occasions all occurred during the narrative.  Fro example, when the story was about the KMT army landing in Keelung, "they arrested people that they saw and executed them immediately," this documentary footage was show.  Without any special explanation or labeling, any ordinary viewer would think that this actually showed the KMT soldiers executing people in Taiwan during the 228 incident.  Besides, SETTV used the following words on the screen (see screen capture):  "60 years after 228.  Blood soaked Keelung harbor.  Actual record of the massacre at the pier (二八走過一甲子,血染基隆港,碼頭屠殺紀實」)."

While it is true that the soldiers shot civilians during the 228 incident, it is not known that there are any documentary film footage, especially something that is so shocking.  According to the veteran documentary film produced Chen Chun-tien (陳君天), this particular footage did not come from the 228 incident.  Rather, it came from the streets of Shanghai in 1948 during the period of financial control when the KMT soldiers executed businessmen who were hoarding merchandise as well as Communists.  Within Chen Jun-tien's collection of documentary films, he has the same footage as SETTV but his version was even longer and more detailed.  Chen has come across the same footage through four different channels in Hong Kong/mainland China.  Those sources differ in quality, but each source is marked as Shanghai under financial control in 1948 during the Civil War in China.  The following photographs were taken from Chen Chun-tien's version.

(TVBS)  TV program host Chen Ya-lin said: "Special report on the 60th anniversay of the 228 incident.  We review the tragedy of the massacre of the people of Taiwan, during which the harbor of Keelung was filled with the blood from floating bodies" while the video segment was being shown.  The same video segment was shown while a reporter said: "There were armed KMT soldiers everywhere in Keelung.  When they saw people, they arrested them and then killed them.  It was cruel and brutal ... In front of women and children, they slaughtered the people . They ignored the pleas from the old, weak, female and young and they fired at the head of the people.  Then they smiled, turned around and left the scene." 

(note: the sub-titles at the bottom of this screen capture
are: "with a smile afterwards ..."

(United Daily News)  In the controversial footage, SETTV posts the label "Provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library."  According to information, SETTV was using the "Sobs in the dark corner" documentary film produced in 1994 by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library.  But in "Sobs in the dark corner," the video scenes of the executions of the civilians were clearly labeled as the KMT soldiers executing Communist Party members in Shanghai in order to illustrate how the KMT soldiers were murdering civilians in Taiwan.  By contrast, SETTV used the images directly without qualification.

Chen Chun-tien said: "In news films, truth is most important.  It is one thing if you don't want to seek the truth or you don't try to verify it.  But you cannot decide to go after some bad guys by framing them with a couple of video segments from elsewhere."  Chen Chun-tien believed that the actual happenings during the 228 era could be far worse than what was shown in this video clip.  But if this video clip does not belong to 228, then it does not.  "Journalism must not go down this path."

(TVBS)  Chen Chun-tien explained what was happening in the video segment.  "According to the Shanghai economic investigation group, if you hid any gold at the time, you can be executed.  During that era of hyperinflation, you have to haul a lot of cash when you go out and you just might be able to buy a meal.  Meanwhile, SETTV showed the vieo segment with the voice-over: "The KMT army landed at Keelong harbor and began a blood cleansing."

(United Daily News)  Juan Mei-shu is the founder of the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library.  She said that when the film was loaned to SETTV, it was explained that this was an execution scene in Shanghai during the Communist-KMT Civil War.  She said that the whole film included scenes such as the Shanghai executions, the massacre of Jews by Adolf Hitler in Germany and so on in order to illustrate that the 228 incident was every bit as bloody as these other incidents.  

(United Daily News)  After viewing the special SETTV report about the 228 incident, one must say that besides a failing grade in verifying the facts, there is a bad smell of politics winning over professionalism.  It is a basic requirement in journalism to seek the truth.  The controversial segment used by SETTV is well known in documentary circles as being from the Civil War during which the KMT soldiers executed Communists.  Therefore, even the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library which specialized in researching the 228 incident just used it as indirect evidence in its documentary film in order to let people imagine how the people of Taiwan must have been massacred.  Given that the content and time period of this film segment were well-known, it is hard to imagine just what the SETTV production team had in mind.  On what basis can they transplant a scene from 1948 Shanghai to 1947 Taiwan?  It is even more unnerving because there is a voice behind this approach: since the KMT kill people in Shanghai, they must do the same in Taiwan?  This thinking means that professionalism has yielded to politics.  Politically speaking, anyone can choose green or blue as they wish.  But once this becomes a news item, then it must be handled with professional standards -- if it is the wrong image, then it cannot be used.

(TVBS)  The video clip of the KMT soldiers executing prisoners was taken by an American news agency and it is known internationally.  Any documentary on contemporary Chinese history will have this segment.  According to documentary producer Anes Kuo, the Intelligence Bureau used this clip as propaganda to claim that the Communists were executing KMT members.  According to Kuo, "the location is the intersection between Nanking Road and Tibet Road in Shanghai, where the pedestrian mall begins today."  Kuo said that this video segment has been distributed internationally for more than fifty years: "At the time, Associated Press and United Press International reporters shot the film.  So this was taken by foreign journlaists, and most foreign historical documentaries used this segment on China-related documentaries."  

(United Daily News)  According to Anes Kuo, this video segment was taken with on 35mm film from hwhich it is possible to see the exact type of pistol used in the execution.  The other police officres on the side were equipped with Thompson submachine guns.  After the executions, the military police dispersed the spectators.  Kuo said that this video segment was used by the American public broadcaster PBS in the programs <Storm in the Pacific> and <Revolutionary China>.  Photographs were also used in the book <Edgar Snow's China>.

(United Daily News)  SETTV replied that some of the "60 years after 228" documentary used segments from the film <Highlights of the historical record for the 228 incident> provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library.  During the broadcast, the segments were specifically sourced to the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library without alteration.  SETTV emphasized that the master copy of the film provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library did not contain any "labeling of the situation as being KMT executing Communists in Shanghai" as implied by United Daily News.  Therefore, they did not fabricate or manipulate the footage.  SETTV "reserves the legal right" to respond to "United Daily News's wrongful accusation."

(United Daily News)  On television, SETTV anchorwoman Chen Ya-lin showed the authorization letter from the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library.  "This segments was provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library and we paid for it.  The original video did not show that it was a scene from the 228 incident.  We labeled it as being provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library mainly to illustrate the concept of massacre.  We did not mislead anyone."  "In television, we need films.  We cannot just have me talking from start to finish.  The purpose of the film to is present the notion of massacre and it does not mean that the film was about the actual incident.  If this is misuse or misleading, then the segment in which the arrests were re-enacted by actors must also be misleading too?"  "Because we did not say 'film from the 228 incident' on the screen, this means that the film may not be from the 228 incident.  That was why we showed 'Provided by the Juan Chao-jih Memorial Library.'  Please do not read conspiracy into everything that someone else does.  That would be too scary.  If we want to illustrate the Third World War, what might we do given that it has not happened yet?  Aren't we stuck with using films from other wars?"

(United Daily News)  And then we have the politicians weighing in.  KMT legislator Chiang Lien-fu said that SETTV won the bid from the Government Information Office to make a documentary on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the 228 incident for the sum of NT$960,000.  But SETTV has taken that government money to make an inaccurate report to disrupt harmony among ethnic groups.  Therefore, Chiang said that SETTV should shut down the channel to apologize for its mistake.

(TVBS)  In the afternoon of May 8th, SETTV announced that it will file a civil lawsuit for damages of NT$100 million against United Daily News.

(TVBS)  On the political talk show on SETTV, the guests speculated that United Daily News was engaged in a political plot against SETTV.  Shortly after the broadcast of the 228 special report, someone had exposed that SETTV had misquoted the video segment.  Around mid-April, the United Daily News reporters began to investigate the case and spent three weeks to gather the evidence.  The report was completed on Saturday, but it was not published either on Sunday or Monday on account of the DPP primary election.  The report appeared on Tuesday.  Thus, they were not thinking about the timeliness of the news, but they were looking for the best opportunity instead.  DPP legislator Yen Sheng-kuan said: "We ask the citizens to show suitable tolerance for a television channel that is serious and hardworking in the pursuit of truth."

(TVBS)  DPP legislators motivated a number of family members of 228 victims to state: "Using a Shanghai incident that was even 'less severe' than the 228 incident was just a way of helping young people to understand the facts.  They were only using the video to illustrate the barbarity of 228.  They did not fabricate anything."  TVBS found another family member who said: "This creates a false impression that the so-called pursuit of truth by the 228 families was just like the KMT style of framing with false evidence.  All our hard work is going up in smoke."

(Taipei Times)  Director-general of the Taiwan 228 Union Chou Chen-thai ( 周振才 ) said: "The massacre of Taiwanese was much more brutal and vicious than that shown in the report."  Chou added that he admired SET-TV for broadcasting the report.

(Taipei Times)  The Association of Taiwanese Journalists yesterday condemned SET-TV for misleading viewers with the video clips and urged it to take full responsibility for its mistakes.  "The station failed to clarify the background of the video clips and did mislead the audience into believing that those clips were from the 228 Incident. It should face its own mistakes with honesty and offer an apology," the association said in a written statement.

(TVBS)  On the first day, SETTV attempted to put the blame on Juan Mei-shu, whose family was a 228 victim.  Twenty-four hours later, SETTV held a press conference and apologized for the first time to the public as well as Juan Mei-shu.  "In the special SETTV report titled <Sixty Years After 228>, we used footage provided by Juan Mei-shu who had spent her life researching the 228 incident in order to make our report more complete.  Without our awareness, we misrepresetnted footage of the KMT executing Communists in Shanghai.  This has caused a lot of confusion in society.  SETTV apologizes here to the public."

(TVBS)  Two press releases were faxed from the same telephone number at the SETTV office.  Version 1 stated that United Daily News has publicly defamed SETTV, which reserves the right to pursue legal options.  Version 2 stated that SETTV has obtained a lawyer to file suit for damages totaling NT$100 million, to be given to the families of the 228 victims.  Today, SETTV denied that version 2 ever existed without further explanation of why people had received it.  It has also ceased all attacks against United Daily News.

(United Daily News)  On May 18, 2007, the National Communications Commission fined SETTV NT$1 million over the <Sixty Years After 228> incident.  Furthermore, NCC set a precedent by requiing the SETTV general manager, deputy general manager and other department heads to take an educational course on journalism ethics of at least eight hour.  Previously, the government has refused on the grounds of breach of contract to pay SETTV the NT$960,000 that had been awarded to produce the documentary.

Related Link: 三立228大烏龍  時報周刊  (May 14, 2007)