Mon, Jan 09, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Down with multimedia monopolies

By Hung Chen-ling 洪貞玲

On Jan. 3, the legislature finally passed the Statute Regarding the Disposition of Government Shareholdings in the Terrestrial Television Industry (無線電視事業公股處理條例). This legislation is vital to eliminate partisan, political and military control of the media. The dispute over media ownership -- a relic of the party-state era -- was thus resolved. However, does this signal a rejuvenation of Taiwan's media?

In accordance with the provisions for the disposition of government shareholdings and the policies of the related agencies, the withdrawal of government and military capital from the Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV) and the Chinese Television System in the near future will see the former becoming a private station, and the latter a public one. Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) recently sold China Television Company, the Broadcasting Corporation of China and the Central Motion Pictures Corp to the China Times Group. As a result of these moves, commercial interests are likely to be preponderant in Taiwan's media. The establishment of the proposed public media group still awaits the drawing up of government policy and the necessary legislative amendments before it can come into existence, so it is certainly worth asking whether there is any danger of Taiwan's media environment becoming the monopoly of a small number of private interests.

The statute will initiate the government's withdrawal from the local terrestrial television stations. In accordance with the law, the Cabinet has to form a share transfer committee within 20 days, which will be responsible for transferring all public shares to either the Public TV Service Foundation or the private sector. As for the Council for Hakka Affairs' Hakka TV and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission's TAIWAN Macroview TV, the Public TV Service Foundation will be responsible for producing their programming from the second half of this year.

By that time, the single-channel Public Television Service (PTS) will have become a public TV group, producing high-quality popular programs according to the needs of different groups. The expanded TV group will be allowed to air commercials in order to support itself. But greater financial support from the government is still necessary to enable it to compete with foreign public TV groups in terms of scale and quality of production. To ensure stable financial backing, organization and personnel operations, those in power have to propose a macro blueprint for the group, and make substantial amendments to the Public Television Law (公共電視法).

On the other hand, although the KMT sold its three media assets and seemingly withdrew from the industry, this is still a long way from being a substantial reform of the media. Media resources are considered public in nature. Under the principle of fairness and justice in a democratic era, the party should return its ill-gotten resources to the public. Thus, it should return its broadcasting frequencies, donate its assets and retreat from the media. But this was not what happened. Instead, the KMT chose to sell the three media companies and earned NT$5.8 billion (US$180.5 million) in the process. What will the self-proclaimed reformist KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) do with the money?

What is of even more concern is that the KMT sold its three media assets to the China Times Group. The China Times Group had already expanded its hold on the terrestrial television industry by buying CTiTV in 2002, forming a multimedia group that encompasses newspapers, magazines and satellite and terrestrial television stations. Thus the most recent acquisitions would seem to be in contravention of the Broadcasting and Television Act, which places restrictions on media ownership. As Article 19 of the Implementation Regulations of the Broadcasting and Television Act clearly states: "The application [for ownership transfer] shall not be approved if the transferee, individually or in combination with related businesses, holds more than 50 percent of the total shares of a newspaper or terrestrial radio/television business."

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