Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The DPP buckles on media reform

Last week's reshuffle of the Chinese Television System's (CTS) board of directors and the appointment of Chiang Hsia (江霞) as general manager shows that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is not heeding warnings to avoid political appointments to media management positions. Chiang herself has not denied that her appointment was a political reward. The result is that the CTS board, which theoretically is to recover its proper role as a public organization, will be little more than another bunch of marionettes controlled by the Presidential Office.

When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in opposition, it strongly criticized the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) monopoly on media ownership, saying that the media were being used as a government mouthpiece. It therefore advocated the removal of party politics from the media. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Chen invited a group of academics and media figures to draw up a white paper on media reform, laying out plans to make the state-owned media an independent public institution. But after winning the election, the Chen government failed to enact the reforms that were anticipated.

The political reality is this: regardless of how liberal or broad-based a political party might be, it will try to influence public opinion through media appointments.

There is a growing feeling that the government will now not give up control of the media. It appears then that matters must be addressed at a higher level: reform should be sought via the Constitution.

Chen has declared that he will push through

constitutional amendments. So far so good, but the amended Constitution should contain a chapter dedicated to freedom of speech and the media. This would set a standard for the media's interaction with the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as a recognized Fourth Estate.

There should be articles referring specifically to the creation of an independent media and a National Media Commission that is not subject to the control of any political party. This body would be responsible for integrating and distributing public media resources and monitoring the performance of private media outlets, for drawing up reform proposals and for providing a rational and impartial forum for debate that can improve policy.

This chapter in the Constitution would also cover the disclosure of government-held information and official secrets. Procedures would also be put in place so that the news media can receive legal protection when exercising their right to publish. Constitutional interpretations by the Council of Grand Justices relating to media issues would be incorporated in the amended Constitution to serve as a reference for future judgements in media-related cases.

This country has only just emerged from a period of authoritarian government to become a Western-style democracy, but its laws and administrative structures are far from comprehensive. Although some are doing their best to establish a Fourth Estate, their progress until now has been unsteady.

The amending of the Constitution provides an

opportunity to accelerate this process. Anyone concerned about the management reshuffle within state-run media outlets and the question of what rights the media are entitled to should concentrate on creating a new and comprehensive regulatory mechanism that upholds these rights and protects dissent.

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