A Healthy and Diverse Media
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 22, 2011
Following a two year delay, the National Communications Commission (NCC) has approved NEXT TV News Channel's application for an operating license. Jimmy Lai, President of Next Media, established the Media Ethics Commission, and offered it seven major assurances. Sex, violence, and nudity would not be part of its programming. NEXT TV will be available only to Chunghwa Telecom MOD users for the time being. The impact on the existing electronic media marketplace will be limited. But Next Media has made its Taiwan debut. Given its substantial resources and its approach to news coverage, it is certain to have an impact on Taiwan's media market. This is merely the beginning.
Next Media made its world debut ten years ago. It took the standard road for tabloids: sex, violence, and crime. Its pages were crammed with paparazzi photos. It totally subverted Taiwan's traditional media. Its also recorded amazing sales figures in short order. Its revenues were extraordinary, In the process however, it generated considerable controversy. For example, Next Magazine covers showed nude photos of sexual intercourse. Womens groups and parents groups protested, The Taipei City Government demanded that copies be removed from news racks. The Apple Daily showed detailed images of a mother abusing and murdering her four year old daughter on the Internet. The public reacted violently, This however, did not affect advertising revenues. Nor did it reduce readership.
The NCC approved NEXT TV's application for a license a few days ago, in mid-July. Only then did the Media Watch Foundation criticize the Apple Daily's news coverage. A story entitled "Mental Patient Crashes Airport," reported on weak spots in the security at Taoyuan Airport. The report contained no nudity or gore. Yet it was charged with violating reporting requirements for the Mental Health Act. On the same day that NEXT TV received approval, the Apple Daily website ran articles entitled "Night Club Beauty Cheats, Sugar Daddy Bites Nipple, Asserts Ownership" and "Kinky Womanizer Deceives Wife." The stench of scandal and Jimmy Lai's assurances regarding NEXT TV were not entirely consistent with each other.
Next Media's reporting style has had an impact on Taiwan's media that cannot be ignored. Its reporting relies not on text, but on images. Its pages are filled with candid photos. Recently, it has gone even further. In the absence of photos, it has resorted to diagrams. These diagrams show everything, relevant and irrelevant. They satisfy the reader's need for visual titillation. They also make some readers uncomfortable. The Ministry of the Interior wants to amend the "Children and Youth Act." It hopes to tighten standards for the print media. Next Media has forced High Court Judges to convene Constitutional Court sessions to deal with paparazzi photographs. This has increased pressure on the media as a whole.
Two years ago, the NCC refused to approve NEXT TV's application for a broadcasting license. One reason was the launch of its online platform, which mapped out a criminal offender's behavior. For victims, this was insult added to injury. It was an assault on their dignity. Its "dramatized" news coverage techniques simulated news events. But this is not how real news should be covered by professional journalists. The content was also in breach of the program ratings system. Two years later, the NCC eased off. Jimmy Lai made clear assurances to NCC commissioners. NEXT TV would put a three percent cap on sensationalistic news coverage. Commissioners decided that NEXT TV was genuine in its effort to impose internal controls.
The media must attempt to satisfy its readers. But it must not transgress moral and social boundaries. A balance must be struck between self-interest and the public interest. The media must retain some sense of proportion in its news coverage. The watchword for the media must always be "self-discipline." The mass media being what it is, this may be difficult to define. But the rule must apply to the print media, the electronic media, and the Internet alike.
To persuade NCC commissioners, Jimmy Lai established the Media Ethics Committee. This enabled his application, which had been delayed for two years, to finally be approved wtihout objection. Among the Media Ethics Committee members hired by Next Media, are independent scholars and experts deeply concerned about media content and media format. This suggests that NEXT Media is demonstrating sincerity and self-discipline. This is the nation's first such ethics committee. In the aftermath of the News of the World wiretapping scandal, the British Government has been thinking about how to rebuild media ethics and oversight mechanisms. The Media Ethics Committe could offer a self-regulation guideline for all media. Media organizations other than NEXT Media may have closely adhered to moral and social standards. But they too must make the necessary preparations.
Jimmy Lai personally attended the NCC review session. He told commissioners that the News of the World wiretapping scandal "hit home, and taught him a lesson." When Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch appeared before the British Parliament, he was choked with emotion, "This is the most humble day of my career." A day later, Jimmy Lai appeared before the NCC. His demeanor came across as sincere. Apparently it was the most humble day for him as well since becaming a media mogul. In any case, we hope the future will unfold as Lai assured us: AS he put it, "Having made my position clear, I must do what I said. I have no reason not to comply." We too are part of the media industry. We are pleased to see NEXT Media become a part of Taiwan's media market. We look forward to healthy competition, Together we hope to establish a healthier and more diverse media market.