NHK Puts Taiwan Media to Shame
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 16, 2011
Tsai Kuo-chiang's plan for the New Year's Eve fireworks display failed to go off as planned. A message was supposed to appear in the night sky, reading: "Knock it off!" But so blunt a message might have provoked unnecessary political controversy. Therefore the message was never displayed. Three and a half months later, many people have the same feeling. An earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale struck Japan. The quake revealed the extent of public dissatisfaction with media coverage of the disaster.
The day after the Japan earthquake, the Internet circulated an article written by a netizen going by the name of "rice crackers." The article was entitled, "What an 8.9 magnitude earthquake taught us." The article commented on coverage of the quake by NHK, Japan's public television network. It wrote: "NHK immediately broadcast images of the disaster. It provided calm, informative, accurate information about the tsunami. Some of the anchorpersons' voices were a little shaky. But they knew that disaster victims and Japanese people the world over would be watching. They had to remain calm. They were their most important source of information. That is why they did not show scenes of disaster victims wringing their hands and tearing their hair. No reporters visited the disaster areas to crack jokes. Instead, they solemnly broadcasted disaster information. They broadcasted government policy announcements. Every few minutes they reminded the audience to pay attention to safety. NHK performed admirably. They were apparently well-prepared. In the face of disaster, they showed how coverage should be broadcast. They conveyed valuable information. They refrained from provoking public anxiety by behaving like vultures."
To compare NHK to the TV media on Taiwan is not entirely fair. After all, NHK is a public television network that receives billions in grants from the Japanese national government every year, When disasters strike, NHK automatically mobilizes alongside the government. Also, Japan resolutely refuses to conduct television viewer ratings. Television production and broadcasting programning are not dictated by viewer ratings. The quality of television series and variety shows is exceptionally high. They are also quite popular.
By contrast, public television on Taiwan has been the victim of political interference and disputes over personnel appointments since its inception. So far, ruling party changes have made no difference. At one time, public television established a good reputation for itself, Its TV series, including shows such as "Rhapsody" and "Oranges," were highly rated. But disputes over personnel appointments make it difficult to return to those glory days. Those achievements are mere memories. Many other broadcasts have been forgotten. PTV news did an excellent job covering Typhoon Morakot. It helped produce a number of documentaries. But when Typhoon Morakot struck, PTV was seldom the public's source of information, or the beneficiary of viewer ratings.
Our viewing is now confined to cable channels. But viewer rating surveys for cable channels are subject to restrictions. Viewers denounce the broadcasts even as they watch them. But in the end, who is to blame? Cable TV channels have no desire to produce quality programs. They have no desire to calmly and professionally report on disasters. The "experts" one news station consulted, were fortunetellers and astrologers. Political commentators suddenly became "experts" predicting where the next great earthquake would occur. Meanwhile, another news station invited professionals to comment. University geology professors provided the public with accurate information on earthquakes and tsunamis. But the news director had to answer for the fact that his station received only half as many viewers as its rivals.
"Wherever you find a disaster, there you will find a reporter." That is a key tenet of the media profession. War correspondents may sacrifice their lives reporting on their nation's wars. Is it worth it? It makes no difference. After all, it is what reporters do. Take Typhoon Morakot. The media became an important source of information, providing people with reports about disaster relief. A minority of anchors or field reporters asked inappropriate questions in shrill tones. Some waded into the water and began shouting hysterically. Viewers found such posturing difficult to stomach. This is one way in which media standards have declined. Such scenes would never have appeared on the three major television broadcasting networks in the past.
Is the media on Taiwan capable of orderly and professional reporting? The lighting was dim at a Japanese earthquake relief center. But professional photographers knew that shining lights in the faces of disaster victims would be disrespectful. At Haneda Airport, the Taiwan media followed rescue teams from Taiwan. Airport staff arranged a "U" shaped press area. The media complained that the resulting images were not very effective. But in the end they had no alternative but to comply.
A powerful earthquake struck Japan. But "order" remained the watchword. The insistence on order enabled the Japanese to close off a large area around the disaster site. Journalists on Taiwan have very different attitudes about such restrictions. Students from Taiwan were evacuated from the disaster areas. The Tokyo airport prohibited interviews with the students. They allowed Japanese police to maintain order. Lastly, the Japanese government contacted the ROC representatives in Japan. They urged foreign journalists to withdraw from the disaster areas, in order not to interfere with rescue efforts. In the end, the Taiwan media had no choice but to comply.
The Taiwan media can be orderly, but not on Taiwan, The media has the duty to report. But no one on Taiwan is willing to remind the media that it must also respect other parties. These are basic requirements. They should be observed by all television media, public and private. Everyone should comply. The effects of the Japan Earthquake are still being felt. Taiwan's media still has many lessons to learn. NHK has learned these lessons, Taiwan's media has no excuse not to.