Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Devil's Own Instrument?
The BBC in Taiwan

 Once upon a time in Taipei, BBC presenter Nik Gowing was speaking at a luncheon to promote the launch of the BBC World TV channel in Taiwan.

I was covering the event for Radio Taiwan International, as well as for the British Chamber of Commerce which was sponsoring the event.

Peering down from his pulpit, the media maharishi preached the virtues of "citizen journalism" and venerated the BBC's role as gatekeepers of the news and guardians of the truth.

After he fielded several softball questions from fawning fans (mostly homesick British ex-pats who hated CNN), I decided to throw this heavy hitter a curve ball.

I quoted Malcolm Muggeridge (a real journalist), who also often appeared on the BBC:
  • Television is the devil's own instrument
  • By its very nature, television distorts and deflects
  • Not only CAN the camera lie, it always lies   
So, I asked Nik, what did he have to say about how television distorts the truth, especially how it distorts the truth about Taiwan?

For example, television almost always: 
  • refers to Taiwan as "the island" instead of "the country"
  • calls the governors of Formosa merely "Taiwan authorities" instead of "Taiwan's government"  
  • calls the democratically elected head of state "Taiwan's leader" instead of "Taiwan's president"
    I thought I'd get an intelligent and thoughtful answer from the media maestro who covered the death of Princess Diana in Paris and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

    Instead, I got a politician's answer from a man who'd interviewed too many politicians.

    Gowing mumbled and fumbled, as if searching for notes that weren't there.
    "I don't know," he sputtered, still fidgeting with his papers.  "You're asking me about television... and I work for the BBC. Um, yes... next question."

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