In response to our critics

There is much to be done among historians of journalism in tracing the curious idea of objectivity

Taipei Times
Monday, January 12, 2004

Some of our readers are shocked! shocked! to find that we have ideas of our own. How dare you write such pro-green editorials, say our critics. What happened to the idea of objectivity? Frankly we are getting so tired of this kind of nonsense that we might as well put the record straight.

There is much to be done among historians of journalism in tracing the curious idea of objectivity. We say curious because it is quite obvious that people start newspapers because they have an agenda they want to promulgate. Newspapers are first ways to seek influence, then money-making businesses; they are not public services.

They provide news about current affairs to attract readers, but that news is, in a way, only bait. The kernel of a paper is its editorial and opinion pages. Papers exist to get views across, usually the views of their owners and the views of the people the owner has put in place to run the paper. Every paper has its opinions and its prejudices; these are what one usually thinks of as the paper's distinctive voice.

In some countries this is more discernible than others. There is an obvious difference between the watery liberalism of The Washington Post and the aggressive conservatism of The Wall Street Journal, even in the US where "objectivity" is fetishized. In Britain, on the other hand, there is simply no pretence that papers are "objective." They are not politically neutral and nobody would buy them if they were. In Britain the paper you read defines your political stance -- and often social class. Readers buy these papers to be informed -- they certainly contain lots of news -- but also to find out what people who think much as you do yourself are saying about the major issues of the day, on the opinion pages. But even the news is slanted, and readers know this. A bomb attack in Iraq will be covered in The Times very differently from in The Guardian despite the facts being exactly the same. And this, mind you, on the news pages.

Here at the Taipei Times we have never made any secret of our stance. We support Taiwan's continued de facto independence and we support de jure independence but are well aware of the problems involved in establishing it. We support, above all, selfdetermination for the people of Taiwan in all matters and deplore those either within or outside Taiwan who would stand in the way of this. We believe that Taiwan is a nation, but has yet to forge a national consciousness. We believe this has much to do with the colonial-style rule of the KMT government between 1949 and the mid-1990s; to build Taiwan as a nation it is, therefore, essential to dismantle both the political and cultural legacy of that era -- dedicated as it was to repression of native consciousness. Everything needs to be changed from the Constitution to schoolbooks to street names. China is another, foreign country. We oppose unification.

That said, it should be obvious why with such core values we appear to be pro-green. Alert readers will, of course, know that we have sometimes been scathing toward the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in the last three and a half years. We are far from thinking that it is above criticism. But if you support Taiwan's development as an independent nation, as a liberal democracy, corruption free and governed by the rule of law, there is simply no other political allegiance you can currently hold. The blue camp stands for everything that a healthy Taiwan has to move away from if it is to realize its destiny as a nation. Of course you might disagree with this, you might not want Taiwan to be an independent nation. In which case we say, without apology, we are not writing for you.