Journalists call for better oversight system

By Roger Liu, Taipei Times, Monday 1 September 2003, Page 3

A journalism group yesterday urged the nation's embattled media to unite behind a reliable oversight mechanism if they want to improve the quality of news reporting and champion media professionals' rights.

The Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) published its annual report on the media yesterday on the eve of Reporters' Day.

Taiwanese society has come a long way since the lifting of martial law in 1987, but the subjectivity of Taiwan's media remains firmly rooted in the past, said Hu Yuan-hui (胡元輝), president of the Central News Agency and a member of the association.

The lifting of martial law didn't offer an Archimedes fulcrum for media in Taiwan to change. Instead, it opened Pandora's Box, Hu said.

The number of media institutions has multiplied since liberalization, but what is coming in its wake is disorder and chaos, Hu said.

According to Hu, the pursuit of profits and the polarization of traditional political power that divides local newspapers into two major group—Taiwan Firsters and China Firsters—have barricaded the cultivation of professionalism.

If ideologies lead the way in the newsroom, professionalism will give way and so will the dignity and subjectivity of journalists.

Reporters' lack of self-discipline also contributes to social chaos and disorder caused by the media, according to Kuan Chung-hsiang (管中祥), an assistant professor at Shin Hsin University.

The founders of two main newspaper group were so-called literary men with the temperament of traditional Chinese intellectuals, Kuan said. They at least had self-discipline to some degree.

But now, businessmen have taken center stage. How can you ask them to discipline themselves and sacrifice profits when they are placed in a competitive capitalist environment? he said.

A four-year education in journalism cannot compete with a four-minute lecture from the boss, Kuan said.

Building and strengthening the subjectivity, self-awareness, professionalism and self-discipline of journalists in Taiwan is a top priority, academics and the association said.

An internal oversight mechanism, like the ombudsman system of the Washington Post, is a method worth adopting in Taiwan, said the association.

The establishment of unions and associations could also improve the quality of news reports and protect the working rights of journalists, according to the ATJ report.

The conventions would regulate the behavior of media workers, Kuan said.

For example, the Journalists Association of Korea can control the quality of its members by picking out winners and sinners, he added.

To improve the quality of news reports, owners of media should sign newsroom conventions with journalists, which would ensure more freedom and self-discipline for media workers, said Vicky Tien (田習如), ATJ executive commissioner.

Journalists should join labor unions as soon as they can, so their rights can be protected, she said.

The government should also create better regulations for the press by improving existing laws or by making new ones, said Shyr Shyr-Hau (石 世豪), professor of financial and economic law at National Dong Hwa University.

Judicial power is more regulative than the executive power, Shyr said. But first the government should amend some of it outdated laws, such as the Union Law (工會法).