Although the legislature resumed operations yesterday following a series of boycotts orchestrated by the pan-blue camp, the Procedure Committee continues to block the US arms procurement bill and the nomination of Control Yuan members. However, the draft of the organic law governing the proposed National Communications Commission (NCC) has been scheduled for deliberation in the next full meeting of the legislature.
This does not imply that the NCC bill has greater weight than the arms bill or the approval of Control Yuan nominations. Rather, it is because pan-blue interests are closely linked to the establishment of the NCC. The pan-blue camp is eager to abolish the Government Information Office (GIO) and take into their own hands supervisory authority over the media.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) long kept a tight rein on Taiwanese media. Media was the tool they employed to broadcast their ideology and manipulate public opinion. It was not until near the end of its rule over Taiwan that the KMT was willing to relinquish its hold on the media. Even now, the party has enormous influence over a large number of media outlets, but supervisory authority over the media is vested in the GIO.
In July, the GIO's decision to reject the license renewal of seven cable TV channels sent shock waves through media circles as well as the opposition parties. The GIO put several other media outlets on a three-month probation, insisting that they raise standards. If the GIO follows through with strict inspections at the end of this period, many stations may find it impossible to survive. They may even be compelled to switch their political allegiance. This is why the GIO has become "public enemy No. 1" to the opposition parties.
The organic law governing the NCC is a bill the government has prioritized. It is a major part of the government's media reform plans, and is also important for reforming the executive as a whole. There is nothing wrong with the pan-blue camp's attempt to review the NCC bill separately, but it has disrupted the comprehensive plan of executive reform. For all these reasons, the NCC bill has become highly politically charged.
In the Executive Yuan's proposed bill, all NCC members would be nominated by the Executive Yuan and appointed by the president. This follows the model for most important civil appointments. But the opposition is unwilling to allow a DPP premier to nominate and a DPP president to appoint NCC members, as this would put the NCC under pan-green control. They have therefore demanded that appointments be made proportionally by party, based on the number of legislative seats held. As the opposition has the majority in the legislature, under this system they would also have a majority on the NCC, and the body would come under its control.
The NCC bill is stuck on the horns of a dilemma. If the bill goes nowhere, much-needed media reform will be delayed. But if it is revised along the lines proposed by the opposition, with the aim of pushing the bill through the legislature, then the NCC will have been sacrificed on the altar of political compromise. The NCC was intended as a professional and independent body, but if the opposition's version of the bill goes through, it will become nothing more than yet another political battleground. The power struggle between the government and opposition will extend from the NCC to all media, and from the media to society at large, engulfing the nation.