Foreign Policy: Taiwan media are turning people into zombies
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-02-23 07:30 PM
In one of the most severe critiques ever of Taiwan’s media by a foreign publication, the professional American journal Foreign Policy has published a special article lambasting Taiwan's media for abusing freedom of the press to churn out what it calls sensational kitsch and rubbish that is turning the mass audience into zombies. The article also condemned the profusion of talking heads that appear on TV screens nightly, blabbing about topics in indecent language. The article concludes that unless mass audience consumption habits in Taiwan change, the next generation will be consigned to be "bombarded by brain-damaged news."

In an article titled "Why Taiwanese are getting fed up with the island's salacious, in your-face media" by Chris Fuchs, a reporter previously based in Taiwan, the article points out that Taiwan's press freedom is ranked highest in East Asia by organizations like Freedom House and Reporters without Borders (RSF), To an outside observer, however, says Fuchs, over the past couple of months Taiwan’s media have been with obsessed with two things: squabbling over a series of inflated giant yellow ducklings that culminated in the explosion and deflation of one in Keelung Harbor; and the story of mixed-blood Iruan Wu, who returned to Taiwan from Brazil for a couple of months of cozying up to reporters and going on and on about how much he likes riding on the MRT and eating dumplings .

For more than ten years, writes Fuchs, media and reporters in Taiwan have gained a not-so-admirable reputation for "shoving a microphone into people’s faces in a fearless rush to obtain provocative content and kitsch." According to Taiwan's "Business Week," major events like the standoff and demolition of four structures in Dapu and cross-strait events such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) have been under-reported even as news items fawn on the baby panda in the Taipei Municipal Zoo and follow her every step while keeping readers and audiences up to date on the latest happenings in the yellow duckling saga.

The article notes that China Times publisher Antony G.C. Wu wrote once about a friend who came back to Taiwan after living in Europe for many years. One of the biggest instances of culture shock he experienced on returning was the salty language he heard on late-night talk shows. He was appalled at the nasty comments that he was hearing, saying that even the most mundane cable TV channels in the US would bleep out or completely cut out the Taiwanese equivalents of the f-bomb and other terms.

The article quotes journalism professor Yang Ai-li, who faults Taiwan media for its obvious lack of international perspective. Yang notes that local print and broadcast media focus too much on "domestic traffic accidents at the expense of major world events.” She recommends that anyone who wants to know more about international events and what is really happening outside of Taiwan should subscribe to the Chinese-language version of foreign media like the Financial Times or New York Times.

Even users on the island’s social networks are weary of the incessant barrage of garbage in the papers and magazines and on screens, leading some to post comments on Facebook saying “Taiwan's media sucks.” Many complain that a steady diet of ‘junk-food news’ is turning readers and audiences into zombies.. The article notes that a decline in newspaper reading at virtually all age levels is occurring even as cable TV is saturated with shocking, obscene and unbearably absurd news.

The article also presents a brief background on how things got to be this way, pointing out that press freedom was heavily suppressed in Taiwan until President Chiang Ching-kuo lifted martial law in 1987. After bans were loosened or lifted, the media set out to enjoy its newly-won freedoms. Andy Hong, a reporter for a Hong Kong newspaper working in Taiwan, recalls that for nearly two decades after the lifting of martial law the media in Taiwan maintained a very respectable attitude toward reporting and there was a minimum of inflated or salacious stories.

Hong says that all changed after 2003 when Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper entered the market. Other titles were quick to notice that the new paper’s bloody photos of crime scenes and traffic accidents attracted readers.

A report in the US edition of World Journal notes that media in Taiwan are increasingly focused on internal affairs and ignoring what is happening in the outside world. The article cites Taiwan’s troubles in establishing itself in international space and participating in international organizations as one of the reasons for turning away from the world scene. Antony Wu notes that China’s Central Television reports the news from a historical point of view that should put reporters and commentators on Taiwan television to shame.

The article points out that, to be fair, Taiwan media do explore meaningful material from time to time such as problems with the electronic highway toll system, illegal food additives, discharges of untreated effluent and other corporate misdeeds. Fuchs applauds efforts like these, saying it shows that the media in Taiwan are capable of producing real news when they put their minds to it, a sign which he calls “encouraging."

Still, Fuchs concludes, the future of the media will depend largely on where the mass audience wants to go. If you do not change the reading habits of the public so that they offer up "no watching, no clicking and no response” in the face of garbage stories, he says, the next generation of Taiwan will simply go on being "bombarded by brain-dead news.”

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