Mon, Aug 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Media reform needs dose of realism

By Howard Shyr石世豪

In a nation where all public sectors have been thoroughly politicized, citizens always tend to see so-called "independent" commissions as cure-alls. The same is true when it comes to the media reform issue, which the government and opposition have been arguing over bitterly.

Ever since the National Communications Commission (NCC) was given its name, there have been those who have been dissatisfied with the performance of the institutions currently in charge of broadcasting and telecommunications. In the commission, they have found an outlet for their unrealistic imaginations. They include people with ulterior motives, who deliberately use the NCC as an excuse to oppose reform.

It seems that substantive reform is unnecessary, so long as we emulate the US and come up with a Taiwanese version of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Then, the thinking goes, all the evils absent in the US but so apparent here -- such as party-government-army unity and monopoly, will instantly disappear from Taiwan. At the very least, this will change the direction of public opinion, and move political parties' focus away from essential reform, leaving us to scrape along and postpone the changes we are waiting for.

I deeply believe that the majority of Taiwanese have been eagerly looking forward to the establishment of the NCC. Although the belief that a political miracle will happen all by itself is a bit naive, it is helpful for changing the status quo. However, the actions of a minority of irresponsible media and politicians with ulterior motives bring unrealistic and empty hopes. That in turn leads to a wait-and-see attitude, which restricts the current reform consensus that has been so hard to achieve.

In fact, if closely scrutinized, the high hopes for the future operations of the NCC are nothing but a mirage -- and the resulting disappointment and complaints will deepen the public's apathy towards politics. We must clearly recognize the feasibility and limitations of the various proposals in order to be able to avoid booty-sharing between political parties and other unreasonable demands that would destroy the functions that the NCC should possess.

First of all, the NCC will be responsible for the telecommunications, broadcasting and information sectors, and its status will be that of a second-level ministerial commission. Organizationally, however, it will not fall under the jurisdiction of the Executive Yuan, which makes it unique. Apart from legally stipulated supervisory and control powers, the NCC will therefore lack both the convenient mutual assistance that comes from the administrative unity of ministries and commissions, and the mutual support and assistance between members of the Cabinet team.

Second, the NCC's "independent" status will not be maintained through a balance between different political parties. Rather, the commission -- which will be made up of experts -- will transcend party politics through depoliticized organizational design and thorough controls and principles separating management from operations. It will thereby escape the influence of the success or failure of individual operators, and focus on technology, market and efficiency policies. Excessive political expectations and too many political missions will only cause the NCC to become engulfed in party struggles which will consume the commission's credibility.

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