2007年6月5日 星期二

State ads replace professionalism

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

Wednesday, Jan 17, 2007 Taipei Times

`Perhaps the FSC chairman's willingness to meet the media to explain policy will enlighten other government leaders and cause the public to demand that they toughen up and face the media instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on advertising.'

A friend living in the US once asked why the Taiwanese government spends so much money on paid advertising every year.

I couldn't immediately think of an answer to give him, so he provided one himself.

"There would be no need to waste government funds on media space and time if government officials were professionals capable of facing the media to explain and defend their policies," he argued.

The heart of the problem is, in other words, that Taiwanese officials lack professionalism and are incapable of defending their policies in person.

I was reminded of this exchange after the Financial Supervisory Commission's (FSC) takeover of the The Chinese Bank (中華銀行) was questioned by all sectors of society and became a source of public alarm.

FSC Chairman Shih Jun-ji (施俊吉), whose resignation was accepted by Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) on Friday, had gone to daily press conferences explaining decisions and the progress of investigations to the media.

From the perspective of professional public relations management, the FSC's approach followed government policy principles, and the fact that the chairman personally came out to explain what was happening met the requirements of the media that wanted access to leading officials.

From this perspective, Shih is an uncommonly responsible government leader.

He differed from past leaders who instead have wasted government funds on media time and space to avoid blame because they were afraid of meeting the media to address public doubts over unclear decision making.

From this perspective, the FSC's behavior during this period has been commendable.

My friend told me that when the US was hit by mad cow disease, leaders of US government health agencies immediately called press conferences to answer questions personally and in a knowledgeable and professional manner.

Then, for several weeks after, press conferences were held continuously by officials to explain possible problems and how to prevent those problems from arising.

Anyone who wanted to know more could get first hand information from government officials via the media.

He said he had never seen the health authorities buy advertising time and space, and that this instead helped calm the public and avoid any possible panic.

But what do our ministers do when something major happens?

Do they or their public relations officers go to the media to explain the details to the general public or is their only thought to buy media time and space instead of meeting the press to explain and protect their policies?

Statistics show that the central government has spent well over NT$1 billion (US$30 million) on media time and space over the past few years.

Because advertising has been declining, many media outlets have given up on their responsibility to monitor the government in order to compete for its advertising dollar. This has turned the government into the country's biggest advertiser.

Preposterous as this may sound, it serves to highlight the lack of professionalism and responsibility among government officials.

As long as incapable government officials use taxpayers' money to line the pockets of media organizations, the media will feel indebted and neglect its duty to monitor the government.

The big loser is the public.

This is why it is such bad practice for the government to buy media time and space.

If the financial turmoil set off by the run on The Chinese Bank (中華銀行) could have any kind of positive effect, maybe it would be this: Perhaps the FSC chairman's willingness to meet the media to explain policy will enlighten other government leaders and cause the public to demand that they toughen up and face the media instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on advertising.

Translated by Perry Svensson

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