Tabloidization of Taiwan’s press

By Joe Hhung

Tabloid journalism is a style of journalism that tends to emphasize topics such as sensational crime stories, gossip columns about the personal lives of celebrities and sports stars and junk food news. Such practice in the United States and the United Kingdom is commonly associated with tabloid-sized newspapers like the National Enquirer, Globe or The Sun. Not all newspapers associated with such journalism are in tabloid size. For example, the format of the Apple Daily in Taipei is broadsheet, while the style is tabloid. The terms ��tabloids,�� ��supermarket tabloids,�� ��gutter press�� and ��rag�� refer to the journalistic approach of such newspapers rather than their size. The Apple Daily has a sister weekly, Next Magazine. In its last week’s issue, Next Magazine published an expose of Taiwan’s best known chef, Zheng Yenji(�G�l��), whose hoklo nickname is Akisai (�����v). The tabloid weekly reported 60-year-old Akisai had a rendezvous with a middle-aged woman at a motel for 40 minutes at night twice, on Nov. 20 and Dec. 2. It’s exactly the same rag as when the Apple Daily exposed a tryst Cheng Chung-mo (������), vice president of the Judicial Yuan, had on April 2, 2006, with Wang Mei-hsin, an associate professor at National Yunlin University of Science and Technology. But what followed was totally different. Cheng not only denied the daytime rendezvous but resigned as vice president of the Judicial Yuan. Akisai held a press conference to explain his innocence, which, however, has since been ballyhooed by Taipei’s vernacular media. The China Times, one of the national newspapers with the widest circulation, made the Akisai press meeting a front page top story in which the poor chef’s claim of innocence was discussed in detail. Other prin t media outlets followed suit to a lesser degree, while many TV stations dutifully played their role of tabloid television. Akisai and Cheng did one thing in common. They just denied that they did anything indecent. They did not sue their accusers for defamation, one reason being that there isn’t a privacy law to protect them.

Tabloid newspaper allegations about the sexual practices, drug use, or private conduct of celebrities are borderline defamatory; in many cases. Celebrities in the United States have successfully sued for libel, demonstrating that tabloid stories have defamed them. It is this sense of the word that led to some entertainment news programs to be called tabloid television. Taiwan has privacy laws, of course. All of them are intended to protect people from the profit-making collection, processing and use (including the internal use and provision to third parties) of personal data by ��regulated entities.�� These laws do not help fend off papparazzi prying into the private lives of their victims. As a matter of fact, no one in Cheng’s like situation in Taiwan has ever tried to sue the gutter press for defamation

The Apple Daily might have a rationale for exposing Cheng, because he was a celebrity whose conduct is of public concern. Akisai may be considered a celebrity like an idolized punk songster whose ranks are increasing, but not on a par even with a sports star. Nevertheless, Akisai is easy prey for a tabloid weekly like Next Magazine, though he isn’t a celebrity like Cheng. It needs no excuse to report on the poor chef’s trysts. Vernacular broadsheets and TV stations shouldn’t follow it to tabloidize themselves.