Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: End BCC monopoly before it's sold

On Friday, the Government Information Office's (GIO) broadcasting review commission rejected Broadcasting Corporation of China's (BCC) license-renewal application for a second time. A third review will be held in August, and the BCC was issued a three-month interim license.

The rejection prompted immediate pan-blue allegations that the government was trampling freedom of speech, since the BCC is owned by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) through the KMT-controlled Huahsia Investment Holding Company (HIHC, 華夏公司), with the latter owning 96.95 percent of BCC stock.

But there are two pressing issues concerning the BCC: How to deal with the serious monopoly of broadcasting channels by the BCC, a legacy from the days of KMT rule, as well as of the broadcaster and its assets being part of the KMT's ill-gotten party assets.

Even today, the BCC continues to occupy 31 FM channels and 38 AM channels, collectively taking up 42.4 percent of radio station frequencies.

Moreover, some of the channels no longer serve the purposes for which their licenses were granted. The most obvious examples of this are the BCC's FM channels Wave Radio and Formosa Radio. The former was originally intended to broadcast anti-communist programs, and the latter was to broadcast agricultural programs. With a drastically different cross-strait relationship and a rapidly declining agricultural industry, the former is now an all-music channel while only 16 percent of the programs of the latter relate to agriculture.

Since radio station frequencies are public assets, under the circumstances it is only fair that more frequencies and channels should be liberated from the BCC. When pan-blue lawmakers and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) lashed out at the government, asking it to focus instead on cracking down on unlicensed radio stations, did it occur to them that part of the reason Taiwan has so many unlicensed stations is because of the BCC's existing monopolization of frequencies? Contrary to their allegations that the refusal to renew the BCC's license will stifle speech and press freedoms, it will only allow more radio broadcasters to enter the market and encourage diversity in the contents of programs broadcast, which in turn will facilitate speech and press freedoms.

Under these circumstances, GIO Director-General Lin Chia-lung's (林佳龍) proposed anti-monopolization rule, under which no privately-owned radio broadcaster may have more than 2 FM channels with nationwide radio frequencies, is entirely reasonable.

The other problem is the KMT's continued ownership of the network. According to Article 5 of the Broadcasting and Television Law, the government, the military and all political parties must end their ownership of and release their interests in media organizations by the end of next year. With so little time left, it is entirely fair for the GIO to request that the BCC present an operating plan to be put into place after the KMT releases its holdings.

The KMT is reportedly planning the sale of its holdings of profitable media, such as the BCC and the China Television Company (CTC), by packaging them with shares of unprofitable media such as the Central Daily News. The value of the BCC comes not only from its enormous real-estate holdings -- and many of these should be considered state-owned properties -- but also from the large number of channels under its monopoly.

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