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Placement marketing and the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics

29/12/2009

Placement marketing is the practice where advertisements are passed off as news. Such a strategy would mislead the public and weaken the media’s position to monitor and criticise the paymasters, including the Government. The worst scenario may be where the media start to do the paymaster’s bidding and persecute the oppositions.

In May 2009, Government Information Office (GIO) Director Su Jun-pin in the Ma Ying-jeou administration reaffirmed the government’s opposition to placement marketing after a formal journalist disclosed her ex-employer’s acceptance of placement marketing. However, there are still allegations of government ministries and the premier engaging in such a practice.

It turned out that the 2009 Taipei Deaflympics Committee also paid for news items and interviews for the Deaflympics in September 2009. Taipei City Councillor, Chien Yuyen, posted scanned copies of the Deaflympics budget on her own blog. In particular, Item 5  and the 5th scanned sheet refers to the spending on news items across several major TV networks; Item 6 and the 6th scanned sheet refers to the spending on time slots in news programmes. This makes one wonder how much this contributed to the relatively mild media reactions to a series of blunders and some major problems in the preparation and handling of the Taipei Deaflympics.

Some of the major problems were summarised in this Taipei Times article. They not only reflect a lack of competence but also bureaucracy and a lack of respect for others’ rights.

The missing lanes of the swimming pool

The Taipei City Government under the Hau Lung-bin administration (Chinese Nationalist Party) spent NT$ 600 million (approx. US$1.9 million) on building a swimming pool. It turned out that the pool did not meet the international standard because it got two lanes missing. After this was exposed by Taipei City Councillor, Chuang Ruei-hsiung, in July 2009, the City Government officials blamed the media for reporting it wrong and insisted that they had already resolved the problem by finding a privately run swimming pool that meets the standard in Hsin-chu County.

However, the management of the swimming pool disclosed that the Taipei City Government put political pressure on them to let the Taipei Deaflympics use it for a month totally free of charge in the name of the ‘national image’, disregarding all the swimming lessons, training and pre-paid memberships. The managers and the members were all annoyed by the fact that Taipei City Government pushed them to give up their rights for the Taipei City Government’s own mistake.

A hand written schedule

During the event, there were loads of careless mistakes, including missing scoreboard, mix-up in timetabling and transport etc. One of the most visible clues was this hand written photocopied schedule for badminton competitions.

This was not widely reported by the press.

Forcing students to participate

Taipei City Councillor, Chien Yuyen, found that the Taipei Deaflympics went to several senior high schools and without informing the parents and getting their consent, forced 10,500 students to perform during the promotion event in 2008. I wonder why the Taipei Deaflympics Committee couldn’t get as many volunteers as the Kaohsiung World Games and had to resort to power abuse. The students were paid only NT$ 115 for the day. Some of the schools got the students practise for hours on end without giving the students extra time to catch up on the missed lessons. The teachers could only try to squeeze in all the materials they had to cover within the timeframe cut short by the practice. What did the students practice? Well, one of the items was to sign ‘the magnificent President Ma Ying-jeou’ in front of Ma.

The fact that the students and their parents were not consulted beforehand was not widely reported or criticised in the media.

Using soldiers for building work

The City Government did not monitor the building work properly, so even with more funding than the World Games, the building of the stage in the main stadium still fell behind. Failing to get the paid contractors to keep up with the schedule, they went to the central government which sanctioned the use of the military sector. This was completely inappropriate. Some people joked about it, asking whether Deaflympics qualified as a disaster.

Lack of respect for those with hearing impairment

The whole event was criticised for a lack of consideration for those with hearing impairment. Those (with hearing impairment) who brought the Deaflympics to Taiwan were not invited to appear or acknowledged for their hard work. All the performances were designed for people with normal hearing.

Not only was the hearing impaired under-represented. The Taipei Deaflympics Committee simply did not make enough effort in raising public awareness and promoting a more sensitive culture. For example, those who intended to attend some of the games and show the athletes support did not have a clue how to do that for people with hearing impairment. Most people didn’t know that there were different sign languages in the world. It would have been nice if the Committee spent some resources on showing the public what it would be like with hearing impairment and how to greet and communicate with them instead of teaching the students to sign ‘the magnificent President Ma Ying-jeou’.

The lack of respect was also demonstrated by the fact that the person in charge of the opening and closing of the 2008 promotion event did not recruit any translator until the host, who also has hearing impairment, told them that translators were essential. Everything came to a head on 10 September 2008, the closing night. While there were 460 seats, the number of the hearing impaired from Taiwan could barely fill a table (10-12 seats). The 274 Taiwanese volunteers (half of them had hearing impairment) were told that they could not attend the closing ceremony. Apart from 10 translators, all the international guests were looked after by students who did not have hearing impairment but had received a few lessons on sign language. The Taipei Deaflympics Committee insisted that those students were quite capable of the task and those volunteers were not needed. It did not occur to the Committee to encourage interactions between the hearing impaired in Taiwan and the guests from other countries.

As a result, 2-30 volunteers were going to stage a protest. However, the police surrounded them before they could set off and told them that the police would not let them protest in front of the Mayor and all the guests. They accused those volunteers of illegal assembly and recorded all their actions. The Committee dismissed the volunteers’ feelings as anger over not being offered dinner. Those volunteers felt hurt and insulted by the fact that the Committee set the police on them and patronise them as a return for their hard work. So they took off their badges and left in tears. Apart from the disrespect for those in the hearing impaired community in Taiwan, this was a huge contrast to how ALL the volunteers were honoured in the main closing ceremony in the Kaohsiung World GamesAll the volunteers were invited to walk into the stadium and applauded by the whole audience.

The above incident was not mentioned by the press and the volunteers’ side of story was not covered.

Lying about international visibility

About two months ago, I blogged about Hau Lung-bin’s administration spending a lot of PR money telling the Taiwanese public that his administration promoted the Deaflympics in Taiwan internationally when he only managed to have it broadcast by a Hong Kong network. Again, this was not picked up by any news outlet.

The amount the Deaflympics Committee had available was much more than the Kaohsiung World Games. The Kaohsiung World Games Committee had their parliament-approved funding withheld by the central government and didn’t have enough money to pay for advertising, so the Kaohsiung City Government had to publicise the World Games through rubbish collection! Before the Games, the local residents could hear the current Mayor Chen Chu’s voice coming from the speaker on every collection van, talking about the Games and encouraging people to attend. This was very creative and resourceful as collection vans were all fitted with a speaker (to tell residents to take their rubbish out) and could reach every corner of the city. Sadly, the Taipei City Government and the Taipei Deaflymipcs Committee mismanaged the resources they had available.

The former and founding chairman of the Committee, Chao Yu-ping, resigned his post in disappointment of the KMT administration. Before he left, he wrote an article about what had happened. It was actually the DPP central government at the time that supported their bid. The then Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and his administration were not keen and even cut their budget. But when they won the bid, the Ma administration held a press conference before the agreed joint press conference with central government agencies in order to claim the credit. Their attitude only improved after the then Kaohsiung Mayor, Frank Hsieh, announced that Kaohsiung was going to host the 2009 World Games. Chao went on to say that when Hau took over from Ma, Hau was much more interested in the Deaflympics but the way he worked was to barge in and interfere with the running of the Committee. It was also the time the hearing impaired personnel were diluted and pushed aside by those without hearing impairment.

It seems that the KMT administration, whoever is in charge, rarely considers others’ needs and perspectives and lacks organisation and efficiency. Frank Hsieh’s Kaohsiung administration started recruiting and training volunteers for the World Games 5 years before the Games. Why did the Taipei Deaflympics Committee do everything last minute and in a hurry?

The above was not an exhaustive list of all the problems and mistakes during the Taipei Deaflympics but the Taipei City Government and the Committee came off relatively lightly in the media. Any one of the above mistakes, including the use of placement marketing, if made by a DPP administration, would have been panned by the media for days. Why the difference? The amount the KMT administration at all levels spends on placement marketing and advertising perhaps?

Hsieh questioned several times whether Lee Tao (TVBS) and his wife, the most vehement DPP bashing pro-KMT presenters, have received a lot of ‘customs’ from the Ma and Hau administrations. To date, the Lees have not responded. Well, this may explain their silence. Taipei City Councillor, Chien Yuyen found the contract and its associated budget to prove that TVBS received at least NT$36.5 million (approx. US$ 1 million) for advert and placement marketing from Taipei City Government in 2008 alone.

Even those pro-DPP refrained from criticising the Taipei Deaflympics heavily because they sincerely hoped that the Taipei Deaflympics would be something all Taiwanese could be proud of. However, the negative impact of placement marketing, as demonstrated in the Taipei Deaflympics, should not be ignored. This may explain, at least partly, why the majority of media in Taiwan is biased.

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