After confrontation and violence in the Legislative Yuan, the Organic Law of the National Communications Commission (國家通訊傳播委肙會組織法) was finally passed. However, before the political clamor it caused has had a chance to subside, the government and commercial interests are set to lock horns.
Because political parties will have the right to nominate commission members in proportion to the number of seats they have in the legislature, political interests will inevitably creep into the commission.
The NCC will control the procedures governing the broadcast media industry, and supervise the content of broadcasts.
Naturally, this kind of control brings with it huge business implications, which commercial interests are unlikely to ignore. The legislation governing the NCC does not address the issue of the potential influence of these commercial interests on the commission. This constitutes a huge loophole in the law as it stands.
According to Article 4 of the Organic Law, the commission is to be composed of 13 members with either an academic background or practical experience in the fields of telecommunications, information technology, broadcasting, law, finance and economics. There are no restrictions regarding party affiliation, but commission members cannot have been in public office, had a full-time position in a political party or acted as a consultant to a political party for three years prior to taking up their post.
But these restrictions also provide a great opportunity for people from industry who are not bound by any restrictions other than a post-employment "revolving door" restrictions. There are some who might say that a business background puts people in a strong position to understand the communications industry.
But how are we to make sure that commercial interests, and their representatives on the committee, will make decisions with the public interest in mind? And, in fact, is this not precisely the reasoning behind the insistence on maintaining the independence of committee members?
Here we can usefully employ the example of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US, which is supposed to prevent commercial interests from having too much influence on communications and broadcasting policy. In 2003 the FCC attempted to relax media restrictions despite public outcry.
Its tenacity on the issue was explained by the fact that the FCC had, for a long time, been tied up intricately with the interests of certain financial groups. Influential media and marketing companies had been working hard lobbying both the FCC and Congress and using their financial weight to influence the right people.
Former FCC chairman Michael Powell promoted relaxing rules on media ownership during his term. It was a well-known fact that Powell had close links with the media. One of his senior legal advisors was Susan Eid, a former lobbyist for MediaOne Group. Powell also had close ties with fellow Republican commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, serving along with her in senior media positions.
Their responsibilities were related to federal management over the operations of these industries. While still in the industry, Abernathy worked as a consultant to former FCC commissioners. Both Powell and Abernathy voted for relaxing media regulations when the issue came up for review.