SPJ Reading Room
Keeping Focused on a Free Press in Taiwan
By Ping-hung Chen
Translated by Perry Svensson
Revised by John Conklin
In theory, there are three forces regulating the media in Taiwan.
The first is "self-discipline," which is the hope that all media will understand their special role and develop the capacity to critique government policymaking, monitor the social climate and promote the development of democracy -- all without fear or favor. This is the most essential media-regulating force.
The second force is "the discipline of others," which means the monitoring of media performance by non-governmental organizations that can hold the media to the principles of journalistic ethics characterized in the last paragraph. This is something certainly worth pursuing, but is far from a reality at present.
The third force is "legal discipline," which refers to the regulation of media behavior through legislation. This is the bluntest of all regulating forces, and unless it is absolutely unavoidable, efforts should be made not to use it, as this force can and often is used to threaten press freedom.
There are two issues worth consideration.
One, if the people of Taiwan believe that an eye should be kept on the media, then the media should engage in earnest self-examination over whether its performance has deviated from professionalism and the expectations of the people. Honestly speaking, though, looking at the present performance of the Taiwanese media, it seems that they have neither the ability nor the will to engage in self-reflection, and so the request for media self-discipline appears impossible.
But the question arises, who should control the media if they are incapable of self-reflection? If it is true that unless media behavior is illegal, the government really cannot exert any control because such an action would not only be seen as political interference in media freedom, it would also be seen as bringing democracy backwards.
This is a taboo that no government official would dare break.
Under these conditions, legal discipline is both impermissible and impractical.
Finally, there is the "discipline of others." On the surface, it seems as if the "discipline of others" is the most accessible method for regulating the performance of the media. The problem is, however, who are these "others?"
These "others" are social and academic groups that should be encouraged to exert the monitoring force.
More concretely, these "others" are you, I and all reading and listening people. The problem is that even though social and academic groups are willing to come out and monitor the media, they find it very difficult to obtain widespread popular attention and support. This is because the public doesn't know or believe that it can exert this kind of influence. The social groups that today have the intent of establishing a mechanism for the "discipline of others" therefore still stand alone, making "the discipline of others" a utopian force for regulating the media.
As there appears little hope for media self-discipline, or legal controls, we must place our hopes in the government to work for the wider public interest to come up with ways of encouraging or social and academic groups to initiate media regulation by "the discipline of others."
Ping-hung Chen is a Professor in the Graduate Institute of Mass Communication at National Taiwan Normal University.