電子媒體第二波革命──電視新聞生存戰

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1999 / 4月

文‧滕淑芬 圖‧薛繼光



台灣社會解嚴後這十年,可能是媒體發展最「旺」的時候。雖然沒有精確的統計,但台灣地區 二千一百萬人口、七十多家電視台,密度之高,大概又可榮獲另一項「台灣奇蹟」;而全 新聞頻道,最多曾有八個。

然而另一方面,博新資訊台、華衛新聞台已經在螢光幕上消失,第一個開播的有線電視新聞台「真相新聞網」改名為真相電視台,裁撤新聞部;傳訊、超視、環球的經營權都幾度易 手,重新尋找定位。台灣的電視新聞生態已經邁向寒冬了嗎?

多數電視人都同意,台灣天空的新聞過於擁擠。但為什麼新聞戰總是打不完?台灣觀眾的新聞胃口,到底有多大?電視經營者為什麼個個懷抱新聞夢?激烈的競爭之下,新聞本質產生 什麼樣的化學變化?

有人形容,台灣的廣電發燒友大炒電視,正是電子媒體的「蛋塔」現象。幾年前一窩蜂開台,到現在或因景氣低迷、無利可圖,只見紛紛裁員、收攤。

電視業競爭過度,首先遭難、被開刀的就是新聞部門。

超視新聞部原本一百三十多名的人員編制,被裁掉三分之二;以全球華人新聞資訊為定位的傳訊電視,先是將在北美和歐洲七個城市的新聞據點縮減到剩下華盛頓、紐約和巴黎三個, 上個月又將香港的編輯部遷回台北,並裁掉當地百餘名員工。

經濟不景氣,殃及新聞從業人員,經營電視也成了燙手山芋。博新電視台五年換了五位董事 長、三位總經理;東森電視台從開播至今,換過三次頻道名稱,三年內換了三位總經理;超 視四年也換了五位老闆。 兵家必爭

已故的傳播界前輩張繼高在五年前即曾好奇提問:為什麼台灣人對辦電視如此著迷?

他分析,有幾件事讓台灣人誤以為辦電視有錢可賺:三家無線電視台長年賺大錢;第四台的老闆發了,手戴滿天星、開賓士。

三台雖是過去特殊時空下的產物,但張繼高認為,台灣現有電視廣告資源已接近飽和,新電視台又有什麼可靠的節目實力去挖三台的廣告?而非法第四台所以大撈一票,是因為不管著 作權、版權,做的是「無本生意」,如果一切守法就沒錢賺。

「台灣電子媒體被壓制太久,一開放後容易引起僥倖心理,以為我也有機會辦電視,」曾任環球電視副總經理、後來出掌超視新聞部,不到兩個月又被挖角到自立晚報擔任社長的資深 新聞人周天瑞說。

民國八十二年有線電視法通過後,六年之內,就有上百個衛星頻道滿布台灣天空,除了每天散佈電影、綜藝娛樂種子,新聞市場也成為兵家必爭之地。

投資電視有人為錢,有人為理想,但是在達到預期目標前,先得撒下大把鈔票。例如第四家無線電視「全民民間」開台時花了十七億,有線的超級電視約七億、環球電視約三億。但這 只是開始,以民視開播後每個月一億元的支出,每天一開播就要三百多萬元。 TVBS搶得先機

開銷如此龐大,從哪裡回收呢?

創辦環球電視的趙怡曾任職中國時報、華視、傳訊等多家媒體,他原先估計以他們開台後一天一百萬元的支出,只要一個月能有二千萬元的廣告收入即可維持。

「新聞頻道版權屬於自己,不用付藝人、編劇等費用,也不用搭拍戲佈景,其實比綜合台省錢,」趙怡說。而台灣特殊之處在,「每分鐘都會發生可以被定義為『新聞』的事件,像是 議長可以變逃犯。新聞多,大家對政治有意見,」他指出,如果兩岸新聞交流條例通過,國際市場打開,大陸、東南亞地區的華人都可以看到他們的節目,一物多賣,到時三台反而會 變成小台。

基於「衛星電視最能觸及散落在全球各地華人」的想法,民國八十五年趙怡找了十位股東,集資六億元籌備,但在籌措資金上花了太多時間,延誤開播時機,而客觀環境也有所變動。 原來「英雄所見略同」,頻道開放後,七十幾個頻道佔得滿滿的。

分食者眾,新加入市場的電視台,經營起來格外辛苦。TVBS的新聞頻道在他們之前開播,連李登輝總統都公開問,「三台新聞怎麼這麼少,TVBS這麼多?」等於免費為他們打 廣告。

「全世界只有一個CNN,台灣憑什麼搞這麼多個全新聞頻道?有多大廣告來源?」周天瑞說,當初從新新聞週刊轉赴環球電視,雖是為圓他的電視夢而去,但他不是「無知的樂 觀」。為打出品牌,他們找了多少高知名度人物,如馬英九、陳履安、李鴻禧、趙少康等人來「撐腰」主持節目。

「環球已經在TVBS之後開播,只有花更多錢打知名度,」無奈財力不足,周天瑞也只能感嘆時不我予。

後來更發生有線電視兩大系統──和信、東森──為了爭地盤不惜斷訊,環球本來還可以收權利金,卻變成全省「走透透」,苦苦哀求各地業者免費播他們的節目。在不堪賠累的壓力 下,環球股東質疑趙怡的經營能力,引進以民進黨籍立委為主的「全民電通公司」資金,趙怡和周天瑞覺得理念不合,又無法抗拒,只好出走。

「五星」電視台的光環

財力不夠的電視台搶攻不到廣告大餅,只好收攤,那麼財力雄厚的電視台又如何?

「媒介特性之一是,收視習慣是慢慢建立出來的,不過老闆大都希望明天就能賺錢,」從淡江大學借調東森電視台、擔任八個月總經理的張煦華說,他上任第一件事就是把東森新聞部 從「龍蛇雜處」的三重遷來台北市,以建立新聞形象;又找來言辭犀利批判時事的李敖主持節目。老闆原本也很尊重他的意見,但後來覺得「媒體五光十色 太好玩了,」忍不住直接指 揮,總經理職權被架空,理念又不合,也只好走人。

電視業現在進入「成本高,利潤不高」的階段,但「收攤等於當廢鐵賣,」東森現任總經理朱宗軻說,已經投下資本的人,還是會繼續經營下去;投資者不見得只看短期利益,有線電 視若結合網路、電信,利潤可能以倍數成長。何況還有無形的利益,「帶給經營者聲望、或轉換社會地位,這個利是算不出來的,」他說。

趙怡也同意,「選民意代表,花五、六億不一定選得上,但電視台老闆的影響力不小於立法委員。」

一位電視人舉例說,總統府、行政院開記者會或宴請媒體,只做綜藝節目的電視台哪有機會見大官?因此不少電視台老闆抱持「沒有新聞部的電視台,不像五星級飯店」的想法,新聞 部有其象徵意義。 靈敏的市場性

口袋深淺只是影響電視台生存的條件之一,掌握市場更是關鍵。

美國全新聞頻道CNN在一九八○年開播時,曾被嘲笑為「雞湯麵電視網」,美國電視界質疑CNN怎麼可能找到塞滿二十四小時的新聞,只能拿些湯湯水水的小事來填塞。但創辦 CNN的泰德透納堅信,電視是一般民眾吸收資訊的主要來源,科技進步讓衛星加快新聞的傳送速度,而美國當時只有三大電視網有新聞,各地方台對三大網漫天叫價的行徑,早有所 怨言。透納認為一個全新的新聞網絕對有市場。

不知是否真的老天眷顧,CNN一開播大新聞就接連不斷,從聖海倫火山爆發、美國總統大選,到柏林 牆倒塌、大陸天安門事件、波斯灣戰爭等,一次次打響了CNN的名號。

台灣的電視新聞沒有全球格局與市場,但CNN的崛起背景說明了要建立媒體公信力與品牌,最快的方式就是新聞──可遇不可求的震撼性獨家和大量的現場報導。而近幾 年台灣社會 政治角力、經濟波濤、社會亂象接連發生,媒體自然不愁沒有題材;到了選季,新聞更是發高 燒,連番拉抬電視的聲勢。

最早站穩有線市場的TVBS,似乎也循著CNN的模式發展。

從拍電視廣告起家、建立台灣第一個錄影帶王國,再進軍世界影壇,穿梭兩岸三地的邱復生,一九九三年結合香港無線電視台(TVB)資金、搭配錄影帶公司的行銷網路和製作電視 綜藝節目的既有資源,成立無線衛星電視台(TVBS),正式跨入衛星與有線電視行列。 台灣CNN?

有媒體曾經分析TVBS崛起的因素,在於邱復生「精狠準」的市場策略。例如,他決定和香港無線台合作,因為它的港劇在台灣已有十二年的市場基礎,在香港每年製作五千小時戲 劇,足以與較早開播的衛視(Star TV)競爭。而選擇在一九九三年成立,是因為預知一九九四年七月「亞太一號」衛星將升空;選擇九月開播,是因為恰好趕上各廣告公司安 排下年度業務計劃的時間。

TVBS具彈性的節目策略及隨時打仗的新聞方向,使得它漸露鋒芒。在選季,TVBS會對選舉新聞 進行大量投資,例如現場轉播民進黨總統候選人的初選辯論、國民黨的十四全會 大會等。職棒六年開打,晚間頭條新聞就是球賽實況,和三台長久以來習慣把總統、政要的新聞當作頭條的固定模式比較,的確提供了不同的選擇。

「某個單一事件造成TVBS崛起的說法,可能太過簡化,」TVBS新聞部經理陳浩認為,從早期李濤主持新聞性節目《全民開講》掌握了 社會話題,到TVBS的新聞部署最早使 用衛星轉播車SNG,「提出現場新聞的概念」;最近兩年又開創了娛樂新聞形式,報導明星藝人的動態,都可以看出經營者對掌握觀眾、市場的靈敏嗅覺。

例如,八十四年底總統府資政林洋港宣布將和郝柏村搭檔競選總統,《全民開講》立刻將畫面轉進在陽明山上林洋港住所,使得它的收視率首次超越三台同時段節目,成為TVBS的 招牌節目。 SNG─Super No Good?

電視台起落消長說明了這個產業不易經營的事實。過去因為觀眾對三台新聞內容不滿,在這「空窗期」下,「激勵」有線電視加強對新聞的供給量,如今已遠遠超過三台,但台灣觀眾 有多少時間、多少眼睛看這麼多新聞?

不少電視人都承認,這是資源浪費。前幾年,景氣還算好時,還可以不計成本;如今成本考量也成為新聞調度的因素之 一。

三立電視台新聞部副總監黃玉振舉例,舊曆年前總統府宴請媒體記者,一家電視台主管就公開說,行政院長蕭萬長去海地訪問,他們一評估四天行程要花五十萬元,決定不派記者去, 還希望政府以後能提供新聞畫面。

除了尋思如何省錢,還需設法「搶錢」。為了贏得廣告主青睞,電視台每天一開台就開打的新聞戰,往往陷入不可自拔的「自由競爭」,新聞本質已經產生值得注意的變化。

目前電視新聞常引發批評的,就是SNG現場連線漫天飛的現象。

從消防隊捉蜜峰這種小新聞,到立法院長選舉,各黨推出候選人、吵架、投票、開票都是現場,「看得出來是為了把時段填滿才如此做,」傳訊記者蕭隆祺說。

台北市松江路發生開設投資顧問公司的夫妻慘遭合夥人殺害的命案,警方只在勘查現場、蒐證的初步階段,某有線台SNG就連線一上午,「這是叫大家不要去,還是來這看熱鬧?」 一位記者問,

電視特長是「原音原樣」,可以及時將現場畫面、當事人的情緒、措詞用語直接送到觀眾眼前,但現在的現場連線常常沒有經過剪輯、處理、選擇,「只是呈現記者所在的哪個角 落,」周天瑞說,這樣的新聞只有收視差別,沒有好壞之別,他批評台灣的SNG簡直就是super no good。

現場連線濫用的原因在,「硬體容易競賽,」黃玉振分析,兩年前台灣經濟還算景氣時,大家 爭著採購機器設備,某台有十二台SNG,之後成立的新電視台也一口氣買了十台。現在 沒聽說那家還買SNG,但一台一千萬元的衛星轉播車,已經買了,總不能每天停在停車場。所以現在台北街頭常見好幾部SNG一字排開的景象! 知的迷思

除了科技競賽,新聞競爭也表現在感官刺激上。

傳訊電視總經理林國卿指出,以前沒有重大傷亡的火災不會播出,但現在幾乎每天都有火災新聞,哪裡發生似乎也變得不太重要了,說穿了就是因為「鏡頭好看」。

日前,台視晚間新聞一則「換妻」的報導,由於不可能重回現場,記者沒有畫面,情急之下,竟然用了警方查獲的非法色情光碟為畫面,打出「模擬畫面」的字樣。觀眾的責罵電話不 斷,守門人把關不嚴,也遭到議處。台中市警方取締非法酒店,某無線台光是播公關小姐的反彈,就播了六分鐘,鏡頭也常對著她們的大腿、 薄衫。

多數電視台所持「不灑狗血,收視率就會下降」的理由,究竟真有來自觀眾愛看的壓力,還是電視工作者自以為是的藉口?

報載,雲林縣二崙鄉一個名不見經傳的小村莊,村民上個月開村民大會,對電視新聞和綜藝節目中的色情血腥畫面,忍無可忍,要求鄉公所向新聞局反映,要新聞局加強電視畫面的 檢 查。難的是,國家力量卻無法介入,否則就變成「干預新聞自由」。

中時晚報因此就新聞尺度和內容邀請電視台主管座談,曾擔任台視新聞部經理、現任公視總經理廖蒼Q說, 觀眾的反應是多面向的,多年前台灣立法院常打架,三台曾約定拳頭落下的 畫面要剪掉、停格,結果試行二週就自動解除,因為觀眾不滿意,認為侵犯他們知的權利,他們想知道「打成什麼樣子」。

他指出,以前三台也很保守,社會新聞沒有這麼多,至少不會前面二十分鐘都是社會新聞。但是在有線台大量使用SNG後,又是現場,又是聳動畫面,收視率一路爬升,迫使三台不 得不跟進。SNG暴露很多缺點,但台灣觀眾是邊罵邊看,越罵越紅。

中視副總經理曠湘霞也認為,社會新聞這麼多,除了競爭外,台灣的社會環境也改變很多,現在稀奇古怪的案子特別多,記者不能不報導。

「我們不是鴕鳥,要隱瞞社會真相,但問題是有沒有刻意放大?」中天頻道主播葉樹姍問,以前群眾抗爭只是綁白布條,後來為什麼開始丟雞蛋、丟番茄、潑油漆,立法委員問政也流 行打架、拔麥克風?

葉樹姍說,以前這種「畫面新聞」頂多播一分半鐘,現在往往拉長到三分鐘,「這是為了畫面而新聞,不是為了新聞而畫面,本末倒置。」而許多人為了上電視打知名度,花樣也層出 不窮,這對社會到底會造成什麼影響?下一代又得到什麼樣的示範,更是沒人敢想。 收視肉搏戰

台灣觀眾有沒有因為第一、二條新聞不是社會新聞而轉台,需要做研究。不過量化的收視率的確是目前檢驗電視新聞「優勝劣敗」的唯一標準,也是電視台主管最大的壓力源。

「不能不在乎,每一個百分點都是錢,代表廣告收入,」曠湘霞說,以前只有三台,收視第一,面子裡子都有,現在那麼多台,已經變成「生存」問題了。「身為主管,不看收視率不 是很踏實,看了也不是很安穩,二十四小時都在焦慮與煩躁不安的狀態中,今天就算收視率很高,明天換個節目內容可能就變了,這是每天的壓力,」出身學術界的她說。

台灣每個月的電視廣告量約有十二億元,過去都由三台平分,但現在分餅的人多了,七十多家新電視台出現後,發揮了蠶食的效用。

民視新聞部經理胡元輝表示,只要從事電視這行,就有來自收視率的壓力。但他也會以溝通的方式對主管說明,新聞「叫好叫座」才能雙贏。以他們最近在晚間新聞中推出原住民《獵 人日記》的報導,就可以印證新聞叫好叫座的可能性,「當然很難,但『難』不能當成不做的理由。」

新聞媚俗是潮流、也是無奈,但如果一味追逐利潤和收視率,媒體會犧牲那些理想?

文化評論家水秉和以美國媒體對總統柯林頓緋聞案緊追不捨為例指出,過去一年幾乎每天都有三到五家美國電視台專門討論此案。

柯林頓緋聞女主角也成為電視爭相邀訪的對象,外電報導,陸文斯基接受美國國家廣播公司主播的訪問,是本季收視率第二高的電視節目,僅次於有一億兩千多萬人收看的美式足球冠 軍賽。 商業掛帥、理想落難

但為了追求利潤和收視率,媒體沒有充分報導他們應當報導的「硬新聞」,例如國際金融危機、科索沃與非洲的衝突,以及其他影響人們生計的政策。「媒體逐漸失去或減弱作為人民 喉舌的使命感和獨立性,」水秉和說。

頻道未開放前,許多評論都認為,只有黨政軍退出電視才能確保電視的公正、專業。但政大新聞系教授馮建三卻不同意這個說法,就以西歐國家以公營為主的廣電制度為例,他們對政 府、財團的監督,表現並不亞於美國商營掛帥的電視。國外有更多實例為證,私人經營的媒介為刺激收視率、吸引廣告主,更可能毫無忌憚地為商業服務。

前年年底,白曉燕命案嫌犯陳進興挾持南非武官家人為人質的大新聞,電視台數小時的現場轉播,創下了高收視率。事後社會從新聞自由、社會責任和專業水準等不同角度,檢討電視 記者爭相與陳進興「對話」的功過。媒體的表現需要改進,但馮建三認為,如果和美國同業相較,問題好像不在於台灣記者的素質較差,可能是商業體制在歐美國家運作早了百年,他 們已經歷經教訓,從錯誤中學習。

「但即使在資本文明,是不是有什麼辦法,減緩媒體的商業競爭,使媒體的競爭,轉向打擊不當的政商權力行使?」馮建三說,如果媒體不願就此盡力,至少,我們還可以問,媒體對 犯罪的原因,是否充分而正確的報導、分析與評論。

學者的期待和新聞實務者的看法,也許站在理想與現實的兩端,但這中間的落差,真的沒有共識嗎?或者像電視界人士所說,十年來,台灣社會歷經平面、電子兩波媒體解放,其中報 紙勝負已大致底定,現在輪到電視「盤整演化」了!?

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TV News- Fighting for Survival

Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of Hsueh Chi-kuang /tr. by Scott Williams


The 10 years since the lifting of martial law on Taiwan have been a period of phenomenal expansion for the media. Although there are no precise figures, with more than 70 television stations serving a population of 21 million, the ratio of stations to viewers must be high enough to rate "Taiwan Miracle" status. And at one time, as many as eight of these stations were devoted wholly to news.

However, Po-hsin Information and Chinese Satellite Television (CSTV) have already vanished from our screens; Taiwan News Network (TNN), the first all-news cable TV station in Taiwan, has axed its news department; and Chinese Television Network (CTN), Super TV and Global TV all have changed hands a number of times as they have searched for a niche. Is the once hot Taiwanese television market freezing over?

Many figures in the industry agree that Taiwan's airwaves are overcrowded with news. That being the case, why are people still trying to make a go of news? Does Taiwan really have such an appetite for news? Why is it that seemingly all stations owners have the news bug? What changes in the quality of news have been brought about by the intense competition between news stations?

Some have said that Taiwan's television stations resemble the Portuguese egg tart shops-they just keep popping up everywhere. A few years ago, everyone wanted to open their own station. Now, however, perhaps due to the economic downturn and weak profits, all we see are stations cutting back on staff or closing down entirely. And with overheated competition, the first department to suffer cutbacks or be dumped altogether is the news department.

Super TV used to employ more than 130 people in its news department, but two-thirds of these have now been cut. CTN, which focuses on news about Chinese from all over the world, used to have news offices in seven cities in Europe and North America. Now it has three-one each in New York, Washington and Paris. Last month, the station even moved its Hong Kong bureau to Taiwan, axing more than 100 Hong Kong employees.

The economy is in a rut, affecting the working lives of those in the news business, and making operating a TV station a difficult proposition. Over a five-year period, there were five chairmen and three presidents at Po-hsin; Eastern Television has changed its name three times since it opened and changed presidents three times in three years; and Super TV has had five owners in four years. Fighting over turf

Five years ago, the late Chang Chi-kao, one of the most respected men in the broadcast industry, addressed the question of why Taiwanese are so fascinated by the idea of running a television station.

In Chang's analysis there are a couple of factors which give Taiwanese people the mistaken idea that they can make money from a TV station: First, the "Big Three" conventional broadcast stations (CTV, CTS and TTV) all made big money in their heyday. Second, a lot of owners of cable TV stations have gotten rich enough to wear Rolex watches and drive Mercedes Benz automobiles.

But special times produced the profits at the Big Three, and Chang felt that the television advertising market was already saturated. Where were new stations going to get the kind of programming necessary to take advertising away from the Big Three? And, according to Chang, the reason the cable station operators were able to rake in profits was that they ignored copyrights, thereby avoiding most costs. If they had had to operate legally, they wouldn't have made anything.

Tenray Chou, who was vice president at Global and head of the news department at Super TV before taking up his current position at the Independence Evening Post, says, "Taiwan's electronic media was held down for too long. Once it was liberalized, a lot of people got excited, thinking that they now had the opportunity to establish their own station."

Since the passage of the cable TV law in 1993, more than 100 satellite channels have filled Taiwan's airwaves. These stations not only provide a daily smorgasbord of movies and variety shows to viewers, but also compete for the news audience.

Whether a TV station is established for monetary or idealistic reasons, it takes a lot of capital to get started. For example, Formosa Television, the island's fourth conventional broadcast TV station, spent NT$1.7 billion getting established, while cable stations Super TV and Global TV spent NT$700 million and NT$300 million, respectively. But these amounts are just the start. Formosa Television spends another NT$100 million per month (NT$3 million per day) getting itself on the air every day.

How do you cover costs as high as that?

TVBS got there first founding Global TV. Chao originally estimated that, based on his

Chao Yi worked at the China Times, CTS and Chinese Television Network before station's NT$1 million per day operating costs, it would only need NT$20 million in advertising per month to stay afloat.

"A news station owns the copyrights to the materials it broadcasts. It needn't pay performers or writers, and it doesn't have to build sets. It is much less costly to run a news station than one that offers mixed programming," says Chao. And Taiwan is unusual in that, "There's 'news' happening every minute. You've got city and county council speakers turning into criminals on the lam. There's a lot of news, and everyone's interested in politics." Chao says that if regulations allowing the free flow of news between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are passed and the international market opens up, Chinese in mainland China and Southeast Asia will be able to watch his programs. His station will be able to resell the same product several times, and the Big Three will become only minor players.

Thinking that satellites could bring Chinese-language TV to Chinese around the globe, in 1996 Chao Yi sought out 10 partners and raised NT$600 million in capital to establish a TV station. But his group spent too much time arranging funding and missed their window of opportunity. It seemed that everyone had had the same thought; when the TV industry was liberalized, it quickly became saturated with more than 70 new stations.

With so many stations fighting for a piece of the advertising pie, bringing a new station into the market was a difficult business, indeed. TVBS's news channel hit the airwaves before Chao's group, and even got some free advertising from President Lee, who publicly mused, "How is it that the Big Three show so little news, and TVBS so much?"

"There's only one CNN in the whole world. How did Taiwan get so many all-news channels of its own? How much advertising is available?" asks Tenray Chou. He says that although he left The Journalist to work for Global TV as a means of realizing his dream of working in TV, he wasn't blindly optimistic. In order to create name recognition for his station, he sought out support from well known public figures including Ma Ying-jeou, Chen Lu-an, Li Hung-hsi and Jaw Shau-kong, inviting them to host their own shows.

"Global began broadcasting after TVBS, so its only hope was to spend a lot of money to increase its name recognition." Unfortunately, it didn't have the financial resources to do so, and Chou can only lament that it just wasn't the right time for him.

Later, there was the battle between Taiwan's two major cable systems-Eastern Multimedia and Hohsin. As they fought for turf, each stopped carrying channels that belonged to the other system. Global TV thus lost royalties it would otherwise have been earning, and had to go to individual cable operators throughout the island, begging them to carry it on their systems for nothing. Faced with unsustainable losses, Global TV's owners began to wonder about Chao Yi's ability to run the company. They also brought in new capital from the Democratic Progressive Party-oriented Chuan-min Communications. Chao Yi and Tenray Chou didn't concur with their new partner's ideology, but were in no position to object, so they had to leave.

"Five star" station

Stations without sufficient financial resources are unable to get a share of the advertising pie, and can only shut down. But what about stations with deep pockets?

"One of the particular characteristics of the media is that viewing habits are built slowly. But owners tend to hope they can begin turning a profit quickly," says Chang Shu-hua, who was seconded to Eastern Television by Tamkang University. Chang, who served as Eastern's president for eight months, says that the first thing he did after being named president was move Eastern's news department from the gritty suburb of Sanchung to Taipei in order to build a more news-like image. He also recruited Li Ao, the sharp-tongued social critic, to host a program. At the outset, the station's owner respected Chang's opinion, but later he decided that the media business was simply "too much fun," and he began "providing guidance." This left the president without any real power, and Chang, whose ideas differed from the owner's, left the station.

The television industry has now entered a phase in which "costs are high, and profits are low." But shutting down is like "selling your station off as scrap metal." Eastern's current president, Chu Tzong-ko, says that those who have already put money into a station will keep it running. Investors are not necessarily looking for short-term profits. Over the long term, if a cable station can link up with the Internet or some sort of telecommunications venture, profits could grow geometrically. Besides, station ownership provides intangible benefits. A station "provides prestige or social status. That's a kind of profit that can't be calculated," says Chu.

Chao Yi agrees. "At election time, you can spend NT$500-600 million, and there's no guarantee you'll be elected. But a television station owner has no less influence than a legislator."

One newsman, citing an example of this influence, notes that when the Presidential Office or the Executive Yuan holds a press conference or a banquet for the media, it's not the people from all-entertainment stations that get to meet the big officials. This is why so many TV-station owners hold to the credo that a station without a news department is not a "five star" station. News departments have symbolic value. A sharp nose for the market

Deep pockets are only one of the factors affecting a station's survival. Even more critical is a firm grasp of the market.

The American all-news station Cable News Network (CNN) began broadcasting in 1980, and was once ridiculed as the "Chicken Noodle Network." Those in the US television industry wondered where the station would find enough news to fill up its 24-hour programming day. They believed that it would have to use a lot of fluff to fill in the gaps. But Ted Turner, the station's founder, was convinced that television is the source of most of the public's information and that technological advances would allow the faster dissemination of news via satellite. Moreover, the three major American networks were the only source of TV news at that time, and local stations had long complained about the arbitrary pricing policy of the networks. Turner thus felt that there was a market for an all-news station.

Perhaps Mr. Turner also had God on his side. There was a continuous succession of major news stories from the time CNN began broadcasting. From the Mount St. Helens eruption and the US presidential election to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Incident and the war in the Persian Gulf, event after event gave CNN the opportunity to make a name for itself.

TV news in Taiwan is not global in scale, nor does it have a global market, but the rise of CNN has made it clear that the fastest way for a station to create public trust and a brand name is through news reporting-lucky scoops and large numbers of reports from the scene. Over the last few years the Taiwan media has not lacked for stories as the island has experienced political struggle, economic trauma and social disorder. And at election time, reporting becomes feverish and TV takes on a higher profile.

The development of TVBS, the first local station to secure itself a piece of the cable market, followed a route similar to that of CNN. Chiu Fu-sheng, the station's founder started off filming TV ads. From there, he went on to create Taiwan's first videotape "kingdom" as a local agent for Hong Kong soap operas before entering international film circles as a producer. Then in 1993, Chiu, who flits between Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China, entered the cable and satellite TV market by forming TVBS. The venture combined capital from Hong Kong's TVB, a conventional broadcast TV station, with his videotape company's distribution channels and variety-show production resources. Taiwan's CNN?

The media has attributed TVBS's rise to the intelligence and responsiveness of Chiu's marketing strategy. For example, he decided to work with a conventional broadcast station from Hong Kong because, having sold its serials in Taiwan for 12 years, it had already established a foundation here. In addition, it produced 5,000 hours of dramatic programming per year in Hong Kong, enough to compete with Star TV, which had gotten off to an earlier start. Chiu chose to establish the station in 1993 to take advantage of the July 1994 launch of the APSTAR-1 satellite. Finally, he chose to start broadcasting in September because that is when advertising agencies plan their next year's advertising sales.

TVBS's flexible programming strategy and constant readiness for battle have shown it to be a force to be reckoned with. At election time, TVBS puts more resources into reporting election news. For example, it broadcast the DPP's debates on the nomination of the party's presidential candidate, and the KMT's 14th party congress. When Taiwan's professional baseball league began its sixth season, TVBS's lead stories were about the games. This was a far cry from the Big Three's long-standing custom of always running items on the president or other major political figures as their headline stories.

"Attributing TVBS's rise to just one factor is probably over-simplifying," says Chen Hao, manager of TVBS' news department. He feels a number of points illustrate TVBS management's sharp nose for the interests of its audience and the market. Examples include "The Voice of the Nation," a news program covering social issues hosted by Lee Tao that has been around since the station's early days; TVBS being the first station on the island to employ mobile units (SNG) to broadcast live from the scene of breaking news; and the station's development of entertainment news over the last two years.

Still another example comes from the 1995 presidential election. When Presidential Advisor Lin Yang-kang announced that he and Hau Pei-tsun were throwing their hats into the ring, "The Voice of the Nation" had a crew at Lin Yang-kang's house on Yangmingshan immediately. For the first time ever, its ratings exceeded those of Big Three programs airing in the same time slot, making the show a TVBS trademark. Worthless mobile units?

The rise and fall of local TV stations demonstrates just how difficult the TV industry is. In the past, the viewing public's dissatisfaction with the Big Three's news reporting opened a window of opportunity, spurring cable TV stations to offer more news. Now they provide far more news than the Big Three. But how many Taiwanese are watching and how much time do they have to watch?

Many in the industry feel that having so much news on TV is a waste of resources. A few years ago when the economy was booming, costs weren't an issue. Now, however, costs are a key factor in adjustments to news programming.

Huang Yu-chen, assistant director of the news department at Sanlih Entertainment Television, cites an example of these changes: Before the Lunar New Year last year, the Presidential Office held a dinner banquet for reporters. At that dinner, an executive from one local station came out and said that his station had estimated that it would cost them NT$500,000 to send a reporter to cover Premier Vincent Siew's four-day visit to Haiti. It had therefore decided not to send anyone, and hoped that in the future the government would provide it with news footage from such trips.

But in addition to cutting spending, stations need to find ways to generate new revenues. To win the attention of advertisers, stations must go to war every day they are on the air. With stations unable to extricate themselves from the "free competition" of the marketplace, viewers must begin to question the changes that news reporting is undergoing.

One frequently criticized aspect of modern TV news is its use of mobile units, known as SNGs, to report from the scene.

From news as trivial as a fire department going out to deal with a wasp problem to the minutiae of the legislative elections-including each party's nomination of candidates, the arguments, the voting and the counting of the votes-everything is reported from the scene. "You can see that it's being done to fill up time," says Hsiao Lung-chi, a reporter at CTN.

When a couple who had established an investment consulting firm on Taipei's Sungchiang Road were murdered by one of their partners, one cable station's SNG was there filming all morning while the police were just in their first phase of evidence gathering. "Are these reports warning people to stay away, or inviting them to come watch the commotion?" asks one reporter.

One characteristic of television is that it shows things as they are. You can deliver the scene, as well as people's actual words and the emotions on their faces right to viewers' living rooms. But little of today's on-the-scene reporting undergoes any cutting, editing or selection. As Tenray Chou says, "It's just that little corner of the world where the reporter is." Chou says that this kind of news is only differentiated by ratings, not by quality, and he criticizes Taiwan's SNGs, calling them "Super-No-Good."

According to Huang Yu-chen, the abuse of on-the-scene reporting stems from having "hardware competition." He says that two years ago the economy was still doing pretty well, and stations all rushed to buy new reporting equipment. One station bought 12 SNGs, and another which was more recently established bought ten, all in one go. You don't hear of any stations buying SNGs now, but at a cost of NT$10 million each, those that have already been bought can't very well sit in the parking lot every day. As a result, you often see these SNGs all lined up in a row on Taipei's streets. The myth of knowledge

Competition can not only be seen on the technological front, but also in stations' efforts to assault the senses.

Lin Kuo-ching, president of CTN, says that it used to be that fires were not covered unless there were serious injuries or deaths. Now, however, there is a report about a fire almost every day, and where it happened doesn't seem to be much of a concern. Simply put, it makes good footage.

Not long ago, TTV reported on a case of wife swapping, but because there was no way to film the act, the reporter had no footage. In the rush to get the story out, the station used a scene from an illegal pornographic CD the police had seized, with the word "simulation" on the screen. But viewers were outraged, calling the station to complain, and also criticizing the censors for laxity. And when Taichung police cracked down on illegal drinking establishments, one station focused entirely on the response of the bars' "public relations girls," running a six-minute report in which the camera spent most of its time aimed at the girls' thighs and skimpy tops.

Many stations hold to the idea that "if there's no 'blood offering,' ratings will drop." But does this way of thinking derive from viewers' preferences, or is it just an excuse created by people in the TV industry?

A newspaper reported that in a town meeting held last month in Erlun Village, a one-horse town in Yunlin County, residents complained vociferously about the sex and blood shown on TV news and variety shows. They demanded that their local government convey their feelings to the Government Information Office (GIO), and hoped that the GIO would improve its monitoring of TV. But this is difficult. If the government steps in, it could be construed as infringing on freedom of the press.

As a result, the China Times Express invited the management of a number of TV stations to discussions on journalistic standards and the content of news reports. Liao Tsang-sung, the president of Chinese Public Television and a former head of news at TTV, says that viewer response varies. He mentions an experiment conducted by the Big Three as an example: Several years ago, fist fights were a common sight in the Legislative Yuan, and the Big Three reached an agreement by which they would cut such scenes from their reports. However, after a two-week trial run, the plan was abandoned because of viewer dissatisfaction. Viewers complained that the stations were infringing on their right to know; they wanted to see the brawling.

Liao says that the Big Three used to be very conservative. They reported little "community news" (a euphemism for what are usually reports on crime or tawdry events), or at the very least, didn't spend the first 20 minutes of their program on it. But when cable stations began to employ SNGs in large numbers-reporting from the scene and transmitting sensational images-their ratings rose, forcing the Big Three to follow their lead. SNGs certainly have their weaknesses and Taiwan's viewers may curse them, but they tune in nonetheless. And the more that viewers curse, the higher the ratings rise.

Kuang Hsiang-hsia, vice president of CTV, feels that the volume of "community news" is due not only to competition, but also to the many changes that have taken place in Taiwanese society in recent years. There are a lot of bizarre things happening now, and reporters can't ignore them.

"We are not ostriches. We can't hide ourselves from reality. The question is whether we need to deliberately make such a big deal out of these stories," says Stella Yeh, anchor at Zhong Tian Channel. Yeh notes that in the past, when people protested, they simply wore a white headband. She asks why it is that now they throw eggs or tomatoes or paint, and why legislators come to blows and rip out microphones as part of the legislative process.

Yeh says that in the past, this kind of footage would be broadcast for a minute and a half at the most. Now, such footage often runs for three minutes. "This is using footage to make news, not support it. They're putting the cart before the horse." Nowadays, people go about getting themselves on TV in any number of ways. But what kind of impact is this having on our society? Most people don't dare to think what kind of example such behavior is setting for the younger generation. A fight to the finish

Research needs to be done to determine if viewers change the channel if the headline stories are not "community news." Currently, ratings are the standard by which TV news is judged, and ratings are the greatest pressure faced by station management.

"You can't not care about them. Every percentage point is money. It represents advertising revenues." Kuang Hsiang-hsia says that in the past, with only three stations, having the top rating meant not only money but status. Now with so many stations, ratings have become a life-or-death issue. "As a manager, ignoring ratings isn't practical. But looking at them isn't all that reassuring. You are on the edge of your seat with anxiety 24 hours a day. Even if today's ratings are high, with tomorrow's different program content, they might change. This is an unrelenting pressure," says Kuang, whose background is in academia.

Advertisers spend a total of about NT$1.2 billion per month on TV advertising in Taiwan. In the past, this was pretty evenly divided among the Big Three. Now, however, this advertising pie is being divided among far more stations, with the 70-plus new stations each eating up a share.

Hu Yuan-hui, manager of the news department at Formosa TV, says that ratings are an issue for everyone in the TV business. But he patiently explains to his newspeople that to create a win-win situation, ratings and quality are both important. A report on aboriginal hunters that recently aired on their evening news program demonstrates that you can have it both ways. "Of course it's difficult, but 'difficulty' is no reason not to do something."

Catering to the viewer is an unavoidable trend in news today. But what ideals are stations sacrificing by devoting themselves only to profits and ratings?

Shui Ping-ho, a cultural critic, takes the US media's relentless pursuit of possible extra-marital affairs by Bill Clinton as an example, stating that nearly every day for the past year, three to five stations have aired programs devoted to the discussion of this issue.

TV stations have been competing to interview the women involved in these alleged affairs. One foreign news organization reported that when NBC, a US network, interviewed Monica Lewinsky, the program's ratings were second only to the Super Bowl, which was watched by more than 120 million Americans. Commercial considerations

But in their race for profits and ratings, the media isn't spending enough time on the hard news they should be covering-stories such as the global financial crisis, the conflicts in Kosovo and Africa, and other policy issues which affect people's lives. "The media has slowly lost its independence and its sense of mission as the people's voice," says Shui Ping-ho.

Before the airwaves were opened up, many critics felt that the only way to guarantee that TV programming be fair and professional was to get the government, the military and political parties out of the TV business. But Fung Chien-san, a professor of journalism at National Chengchi University, doesn't agree. He says that in Western Europe, where most stations are government-run, TV's monitoring of government and business is no worse than in the US, where almost all stations are commercial. A number of examples from overseas demonstrate that commercial television, with its need to stimulate ratings and attract advertisers, often does not hesitate to "serve" the business community.

At the end of 1997, Chen Chin-hsing, one of the men involved in the kidnapping and murder of Pai Hsiao-yan, took a South African military attache and his family hostage. Local TV stations got high ratings broadcasting from the scene for hours on end. But afterwards, Taiwanese society began to discuss whether the efforts by reporters to interview Chen were a good thing or not, raising points which included freedom of the press, social responsibility and professional standards. The media should improve, but Fung Chien-san believes that if you compare the Taiwan news industry to its counterparts in the US, the problem doesn't seem to be with the quality of the reporters themselves. Instead, he feels that the difference is that the US and Europe have already had the opportunity to learn from their mistakes because their commercial structures came into being one hundred years earlier than those in Taiwan.

"But is there a way to moderate commercial competition within the media in capitalist society? Is there a way to turn media competition against the forces of government and business?" Fung says that if the media isn't willing to exert itself in this direction, we can at least ask if its reporting, analysis and discussion of crime is complete and accurate.

Scholars and newspeople may be standing on opposite sides of the gulf separating ideals from reality, but is there really no consensus that can bridge this gulf? Or perhaps what people in the TV industry say is true-over the last 10 years, both the print and electronic media have been liberalized in Taiwan. The battle within the newspaper industry has already been decided, and now it is TV's turn to slug it out.

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