Chiang Hsia's (江霞) appointment as managing director of Chinese Television System (CTS) has kicked up quite a stir. Four years ago she joined the board of executives at Taiwan TV (TTV), doing much for the domestic TV and movie industry. I am particularly interested in the withdrawal of party politics from the media in this country, and in policies encouraging independence from government control. Grateful as I am for what Chiang did for TTV, I feel her appointment requires comment.
The victory of the Democratic Progressive Party in the 2000 election was followed by the first reorganization of the political structure of Taiwan's media. As a result, TTV's administrative board was filled with financial management professionals picked by the new government from state-run banks and holding companies, heads of high-tech firms, senior members of the media, pioneers from community universities and academics. They were joined by Chiang, a seasoned actress.
This eclectic group of professionals should have provided a palpable advantage to TTV in facing the challenges posed by fierce competition from other terrestrial TV stations, moving into digital technology and the need to invigorate the domestic TV and movie industry. On the contrary, due to the storm precipitated by the executive appointments and suspicions in the public and political spheres concerning how "green" the station had become, the new political hue of the board was clearly a cause for concern in society at large.
One reason for this may well be that the Taiwanese media is simply too set in its ways when it comes to political orientation, and successive waves of personnel changes have aroused wild suspicions. More importantly, though, TTV's new executive stars failed to deliver what was expected, under normal circumstances, from such a pool of talent.
Why is this? In addition to two seats on the board that were taken up by executives with links to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who formed their own political bubble within the proceedings, there were also a number of troublemakers creating an atmosphere akin to a pressure cooker. These consistently frustrated efforts to reform the system, stifled innovative programming and broadcasting and prevented the company from carrying out its responsibilities to the public.
Even though there were no real surprises in the news or entertainment programming and the digitization of the channel was slow and costly because of TTV's internal structure, many eyes were glued to the company's profits and whether or not the talk shows were leaning towards the green side of the political spectrum. The executives from the political and commercial fields, as well as Chiang, must have been exasperated at how little progress was being made considering how much they wanted to achieve.
Given that external factors and internal organization remain the same, I wonder how a similar mixture of professionals will fare at CTS? Perhaps political in-fighting could be kept to a minimum if the ministries of national defense and education, the major shareholders in CTS, can either directly or indirectly influence a large number of the seats on the board. This will do away with the problems of political point-scoring and vulnerability. Perhaps then these professionals from financial, hi-tech, media, educational and legal backgrounds, working with Chiang, can launch a counter-offensive against the hundreds of channels besieging CTS.
I have absolutely no intention of denying that people from specific professional backgrounds can have a positive effect on terrestrial TV channels. The wide-ranging nature of TV programming calls for management from a wide variety of backgrounds that can cater to the various needs and viewpoints specific to these fields. In this way TV can fulfill its responsibilities to the public.
Since the government has finally decided to initiate some progressive policies aimed at making the TV stations more independent, they will be able to remove the tumor of political and commercial intervention in terrestrial TV, which we have seen growing for so many years, in one fell swoop. It will also constitute an opportunity to rid management of these shackles that led to the pressure-cooker effect in TTV's board.
Experienced media figures and artists should remain in their positions in these significant times so that the domestic movie and TV industries can be resurrected. Nevertheless, we still need to take a look at what roles they are to play in this process, and which functions they are to have.
In the day-to-day operation of terrestrial TV stations, tasks can be basically divided into two levels, those of programming management and business supervision. Because the media, by nature, also incorporates the production of news and entertainment content, there are also the technical, business and finance departments. Experience in performing can shed some light on approximately half of these different parts. Management and development strategies will also need to be implemented to unite the different departments into a common front.
Finally, they will have to help their staff adjust to the change from a commercial system to a more public-oriented system, which will require increased communication with people outside the broadcaster. The CTS management will have to tackle all of these issues. Taking a step back, it will also be incumbent on the board to put their heads together and elect a president whom they can all accept and who will have strong leadership qualities. He or she will need to be astute when it comes to identifying people's strong points and allocating tasks accordingly. The company will then be able to succeed.
Should there be only one profession represented on the board, then it will hold a monopoly on the everyday programming. This will not only restrict CTS' scope, but also cause the three established TV stations to fall back under the shadow of government control. This will be bad for the operation of the TV station, and will also be damaging to the idea of more independence.
Established TV stations in the West have known for some time what experienced performers can contribute to improving the media and strengthening the domestic movie and TV industries. The media can only be rid of the particular biases resulting from political and commercial pressures after long-term supervision and participation by an independent team of professionals working within an organizational structure.
Following the necessary reforms and appropriate monitoring, there are clearer skies ahead for the Taiwanese media.
Howard Shyr is an executive member of the Campaign For Media Reform and a former member of the board at TTV.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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