The media must stop abusing press freedom

The China Post

This incident may go down as the biggest scandal in the history of the media in Taiwan. Everyone in the industry should do some soul searching.

Almost all major TV channels on Monday broadcasted a video showing a gangster brandishing an array of pistols and rifles and threatening to kill his capo. The gangster, identified as Chou Cheng-pao, also claimed responsibility for three shooting incidents in Taichung.

The video was shown on TVBS, a popular all-news channel, as an exclusive. Later, all the other all-news stations made it a top story.

The showing of the footage caused widespread concern, especially in the law-enforcement community. Premier Su Tseng-chang ordered a vigorous hunt for the outlaw.

After the broadcast, the video was sent to Taichung police for an investigation. In the video, Chou identified his boss as the mastermind of the murder of Lin Cheng-hsin, a mafioso who had Chang Hung-nien, speaker of the Taichung city council, kidnapped on October 1, 2001.

The stunning news came on Wednesday that the video was shot by a TVBS correspondent. The station, after the discovery, fired this and another employee and disciplined two supervisors in Taipei. Pan Tsu-yin and Sun Chia-jui were each given one major demerit. Sun was relieved of her concurrent job as city editor.

According to news reports on Wednesday, the TVBS’s Taichung correspondents told the station’s supervisors the source could not be identified. The two supervisors then edited the tape, which was claimed to have been produced by Chou Cheng-pao himself.

On Wednesday evening TVBS issued a statement apologizing to the public.

“We take responsibility for the trouble,” the TVBS statement said. “For that TVBS wishes to offer our sincere apologies to the public,” it added.

The National Communications Commission (NCC), which is the public watchdog for supervising the media, has tentatively decided to fine the cable station NT$2 million.

Yesterday afternoon, police in Taichung found and arrested Chou in an empty house in Taichung County and seized the guns he displayed in the video. The “weapons” turned out to be model guns.

The NCC has launched enquiries into this incident, trying to determine the responsibility of TVBS and the other channels for the public concern aroused.

TVBS, which has been widely and severely condemned over the video, deserves the sternest denunciations from the public, even though its authorities have admitted to the mistake and apologized.

This incident reflects the fact that Taiwan’s TV stations, in their pursuit of higher ratings, have gone too far in their unscrupulous use of strategies designed to satisfy the public’s desire for sensationalism. This practice is eroding the public’s faith in the media. It is essential that all media organizations learn a lesson from this incident and exercise self-discipline. Otherwise they will soon suffer the loss of the public’s trust.