Following the National Communications Commission's (NCC) announcement of TVBS' punishment for broadcasting a death threat by Taichung gangster Chou Cheng-pao (周政保), observers from all parts of society have criticized it for being either far too excessive or far too light.
The commission should not have to face such criticism, from either extreme, as it chose an appropriate and moderate path.
However, we still cannot approve of the commission's handling of the matter as it remains powerless to halt the deterioration of TVBS' output and that of the commercial media sector as a whole.
On a basic level, we support the NCC for citing Article 29 of the Satellite and Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法), which allows it to use its authority as the regulator to consider and demand appropriate corrective measures of TV stations and to demand that they be enforced within a predetermined timeframe. But it was inappropriate for the NCC to issue instructions to the effect that news managers cannot host programs and that TVBS general manager Lee Tao (李濤) must step down.
There are two reasons why these rulings were incorrect.
First, it is equivalent to the NCC making excuses for TV stations whose news management is poor, or who are unable to adhere to standard journalistic principles. In this case, the excuse proffered was that news managers who also served as program hosts were unable to adequately fulfill their supervisory duties. Furthermore, it is possible that these demands could constitute excessive interference in the media's internal operations. This not only oversteps what an independent regulator's should do, but could also set a precedent with disastrous consequences.
Second, these measures might serve as a brief warning to TVBS, but they won't change the underlying causes of the problem -- the nation's poor commercial media environment and the vicious competition in the sector.
Individuals have criticized senior management at TVBS for fostering an unhealthy environment in the organization, and have said that they must share the responsibility with reporters on the front line. For this reason, many were calling for Lee to step down. This criticism should give TVBS pause to reflect. But for the commission to directly issue an order to this effect is not the appropriate way to regulate the media.
In fact, Article 29 gives the commission the ability to consider other forms of punishment. For example, it could have demanded that TVBS provide it with an operational plan that would ensure its broadcasts adhere to the required standards, and to increase any penalties should it fail to improve within a specified length of time.
The penalties handed out to TVBS were insufficient to bring about the fundamental reforms required in TV news media. The NCC should, at the very least, implement the following three new measures.
First, the case has highlighted the flaws in the legislation. The commission should do a comprehensive evaluation of the relevant laws and propose amendments as soon as possible.
Second, faced with news media that continually make these bad judgment calls and errors, the commission should review operational procedures and propose effective structural reforms, lest similar cases be repeated. The strategy of handing out punishments, and then renewing all the licences regardless, needs to be reformed.