Is the ir­ra­di­ated food scan­dal hoopla or a witch-hunt?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst, the cel­e­brated jour­nal­ist who gave rise to yel­low jour­nal­ism, de­fined news as “some­thing that the peo­ple like to talk about.” Fine. But it’s the news edi­tor who de­cides what peo­ple like to talk about. So there are a lot of hy­pes, hul­la­baloos, and hooplas. All of them, un­for­tu­nately, seem to be in de­mand in the news­rooms of Taipei’s me­dia.

While still in the midst of the long on­go­ing cov­er­age over Mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je, our news ed­i­tors are tak­ing time out to grind out news to mis­lead and con­fuse read­ers and the public. The mo­ment the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced the ban­ning of sales of ra­di­a­tion-con­tam­i­nated foods and drinks “sneaked into Tai­wan” from five Ja­panese pre­fec­tures on last Tues­day, the me­dia scram­bled wildly and ex­hil­a­rat­ingly like a swarm of hor­nets for fren­zied cov­er­age, re­port­ing mostly un­con­firmed vi­o­la­tions and hearsay on how long-time con­sump­tion would evolve into danger­ous health haz­ards, in­clud­ing the chance of con­tract­ing deadly can­cer.

Tai­wan has long banned im­ports from the five pre­fec­tures of Fukushima, Ibaragi, Gunma, Chiba and Tochigi where food prod­ucts may be con­tam­i­nated by ra­dioac­tive fall­out due to the Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter spread af­ter a nu­clear power plant was hit by the tsunami set off by the Great East Ja­pan Earth­quake of March 11, 2011.

On Feb. 26, the Keelung Cus­toms found some of the food items from the five pre­fec­tures im­ported with “forged” cer­tifi­cates of ori­gin. Im­porters were in­spected and told to re­call all those mis­la­beled prod­ucts, while su­per­mar­kets were or­dered to re­move them from shelves on March 21. The FDA made the an­nounce­ment three days later. The re­moval had to be com­pleted by mid­night yes­ter­day.

On March 25, Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party law­mak­ers blasted the gov­ern­ment for lax im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ban, the lift­ing of which one of them said is be­ing ne­go­ti­ated at the re­quest of the Taipei of­fice of the In­ter­change As­so­ci­a­tion, Ja­pan’s de-facto em­bassy. As the news was be­ing spread, Pre­mier Mao Chi-kuo or­dered pun­ish­ments for “erring” FDA of­fi­cials, while dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors in New Taipei City be­gan to in­ves­ti­gate the sus­pected forgery of cer­tifi­cates of ori­gin.

Though the lab tests con­ducted by the Atomic En­ergy Coun­cil have proven none of the con­fis­cated foods and drinks are con­tam­i­nated by ra­di­a­tion, me­dia quoted “ex­perts” as warn­ing of a risk of can­cer af­ter con­sump­tion over a long time, took the FDA to task for “cov­er­ing up,” and warned the gov­ern­ment against “turn­ing Tai­wan into a (Ja­panese) ra­di­a­tion-con­tam­i­nated food garbage con­tainer.”

Public pros­e­cu­tors were re­ported to sus­pect the FDA play­ing blind to cus­toms in­spec­tions of food prod­ucts im­ported from the five Ja­panese pre­fec­tures. The pros­e­cu­tors are for­bid­den from re­veal­ing the progress of their crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the me­dia quoted them as say­ing the FDA failed to re­quire all im­porters to fully and cor­rectly fill in their “re­quest forms for cus­toms in­spec­tion of im­ported food prod­ucts,” mak­ing it pos­si­ble for them to sneak in ra­di­a­tion-con­tam­i­nated food and drink with­out the in­spec­tion. Some of the forms the pros­e­cu­tors found did not spec­ify the place of ori­gin.

The FDA cried foul, how­ever. Its spokesman Wang Che-chao ad­mit­ted to lax screen­ing of the forms in times of no sea­sonal haz­ards such as the spread of con­ta­gious dis­eases among fish and shell­fish in or­der to speed up the cus­toms in­spec­tion in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional prac­tices, but stated the FDA fully trusts the cus­toms in­spec­tions of im­ports. For the over­sight, an FDA sec­tion chief was de­moted, while Chi­ang Yu-mei, FDA direc­tor, has re­quested due dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

The press brouhaha has con­tin­ued pas­sion­ately. So much so that the Sankei Shim­bunn com­mented Tai­wan is get­ting “ner­vous and jit­tery” about food safety thanks to its “anx­i­ety-stok­ing me­dia.” Well, the Ja­panese news­pa­per is an as­tute critic. There’s no deny­ing the fact that Taipei’s me­dia start — and sus­tain — the public’s list­less­ness in Tai­wan.

Would our me­dia re­strain them­selves, just for once, from con­tin­u­ing their witch- hunt of in­crim­i­nat­ing com­pe­tent au­thor­i­ties — im­porters as well as Ja­panese ex­porters?

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