Taipei, More than 10 media outlets in Taiwan have been found involved in a scheme by Hualien County to write propaganda and gather public opinion for it, according to data from the Cabinet-level Public Construction Commission.
Mirror Media reported Wednesday that Hualien County Magistrate Fu Kun-chi) invited bids last year for producing written or video propaganda pieces about the county's policies and to record voices of the public. The process resulted in the Hualien County government awarding 25 contracts paying NT$140,000 (US$4,545) to NT$280,000 each to reporters stationed in the county from several news organizations, according to the report.
After the National Communications Commission (NCC), the country's top media regulator, learned of the scheme through the Mirror Media report, it called the case an "issue of journalistic ethics" and requested the media involved to launch an investigation and submit their findings to the NCC.
As of Friday, reporters from more than 10 media outlets were found to have won the unusual contracts from Hualien County before the end of last year, data on the Procurement Network run by the Public Construction Commission showed.
Local governments in Taiwan are allowed to procure media services from media outlets or public relations companies but not individual reporters.
In the Hualien case, the local government is suspected of misappropriating public funds to hire reporters to serve as its "collectors of public opinion."
The Mirror Media report said the news organizations whose reporters were involved included Taiwan Television (TTV), China Television (CTV), Sanlih E-Television (SET), ETTV, Era News, Formosa Television, CTiTV, Hakka TV, TVBS Media Inc., Taiwan Indigenous Television (TITV), Keng Shen Daily and the United Daily News (UDN).
On Friday, TVBS sacked its Hualien reporter, surnamed Lee, after finding that he participated in the problematic government tender through a middleman, the company said.
SET has also fired its reporter involved in the scandal, while UDN, ETTV, TTV, TITV and Formosa TV said they have suspended the reporters said to have taken part in the scheme.
Next Television said Thursday that its reporter stationed in Hualien resigned for being hired by a third party for personal gain.
The Public Construction Commission is investigating whether Hualien County violated the Government Procurement Act, while the Hualien District Prosecutors Office said Friday that it is looking into whether government officials were involved in graft in the case.
The scandal has sparked concerns over the media's credibility. Kuan Chung-hsiang a professor in media at National Chung Cheng University, said the media should stand on the opposite side of the government, playing the role of overseeing the government's practices.
Whenever the media is contracted by the government to do promotional work, it jeopardizes the media's credibility and puts the media in danger of losing people's trust, Kuan said
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel