Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taiwan and the crisis of journalism's future: Demoracy matters

An editorial in the
Taiwan News reads: hat tip to TN Editor:

A global congress of representatives of international journalist trade unions and professional organizations held in Spain last week highlighted the depth of the crisis of ethical and quality journalism, the grave implications for democracy worldwide and the lack of visible solutions.

Nearly 300 delegates representing journalist unions in over 100 countries and 600,000 members attended the 23rd congress of the International Federation of Journalists.

Despite fine weather and a scenic location, the atmosphere was chilled by the realization that global trends toward shrinkage of traditional news media outlets, especially newspapers, cuts in the ranks of reporters and sub-editors, the proliferation of perverse forms of "embedded marketing" or "paid news" and the erosion of quality and ethical values among publishers, managers and even editors and reporters.

Moreover, these trends are interlinked with radical changes in information and the global financial tsunami to trigger changes in media owner and management priorities and business models that are undermining the ethical quality of journalism and work security for professional journalists around the world, especially in more developed democracies.

Journalism and democracy

At the same time threats to the personal freedom or even lives of journalists through impunity and imprisonment for simply trying to write the truth are intensifying in all continents, as shown by a IFJ report that related that 139 news workers were killed last year, including 52 journalists killed in the Asia-Pacific of which 37 were slain in our southern neighbor, the Philippines.

Formal and private discussions among the nearly 300 delegates from journalist unions in over 100 countries showed a high degree of consensus on the nature and gravity of the crisis facing news media, professional journalists and quality and ethical journalism and also showed that there were no panaceas or solutions on the horizons.

Nevertheless, the congress of journalists did agree on a strategic direction and action plan that highlights the critical nature of quality and ethical journalism as an "public good" essential for the achievement, cultivation and survival of democracy.

The IFJ program highlighted that the difference of professional journalists from "content providers" lies in the fact that professionally trained and ethically committed journalists are the core of "a system of providing "ethical, credible, transparent and accountable" information for all citizens regardless of the platform.

Hence, professional journalists and news workers must be at the center of global dialogue for solutions to the future of journalism and news media, a dialogue whose restriction to media bosses or governments would reduce journalists to "stenographers of power" and would pose an unprecedented threat to the fabric of democracy worldwide.

Taiwan's voice

Taiwan's journalists gained a direct voice in this process thanks to the election of Association for Taiwan Journalists former president Michael Yu Chia-chang, a seasoned journalist with Taiwan's Public Television Service, to the 21-person IFJ Executive Committee, which decides policy for the trade union federation between congresses.

This achievement will improve access for Taiwan journalists into the dialogue for solutions to the global crisis of journalism, all of the symptoms of which are fully present in Taiwan and provide a platform for the sharing of Taiwan's own important experiences in securing news freedom and the opportunities as well as challenges posed by the emergence of new media platforms and technologies.

The presence of an ATJ leader on the IFJ policy-making body will also ensure greater international attention to Taiwan's unique problems, including the regression of news freedom and state and even pubic news media autonomy under the pressure from the restored "formerly authoritarian" ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government.

The ATJ's presence will undoubtedly facilitate the IFJ's effort, which began in early 2008, to monitor and report on violations of news freedom in the authoritarian and communist dictatorship of the People's (sic) Republic of China.

In order to promote news freedom and protection for the rights of journalists in the Communist PRC, the IFJ also aims to promote dialogue with communist Chinese news workers, news freedom organizations and even the Chinese Communist Party - controlled All China Federation of Journalists.

The presence of a capable and well respected representative of Taiwan's news workers on the IFJ board and an enhanced role for the ATJ will help ensure that "cross-strait media dialogue" will not be monopolized by pro-KMT media owners but will include the voices of working Taiwan journalists and ensure that news freedom is a priority in dialogue on a more "level playing field."

After all, the PRC has no representation or influence in the IFJ since the CCP regime allows no autonomous unions for journalists or any other kind of workers.

Changing that state of affairs is a priority for the IFJ or any other global union federation concerned with promoting democracy in China, protecting democracy elsewhere in Asia and ensuring the survival of Taiwan's own democracy.

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