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