Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 8 News List

One step closer to better TV shows

By Feng Chien-San 馮建三

On June 16, the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee decided to eliminate Article 14, Section 1 of the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法), abolishing the Act Governing the Broadcasting Development Fund (廣播電視事業發展基金條例). This in turn might mean the liquidation of the Broadcasting Development Fund (BDF). While some may consider this a minor issue, the legislature has taken a first step in the right direction.

A decision must be made on the BDF, and although the Cabinet has yet to turn its attention to the issue, there is no reason why the legislature shouldn’t take the initiative.

This must be followed by a second and even more important step, which is related to one of the reasons for doing away with the act. The legislature says the BDF has fulfilled its mission and no longer acts according to the original purpose of the law. The truth is, however, that since its establishment more than 20 years ago, the fund has never been able to fulfill its mission. This is the reason the legislature should go further.

In the 1980s, the original three TV channels and the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) monopolized almost all radio and TV resources. As long as the government released some of the profits from this monopoly and produced some high-quality programming, it could retain these communication channels.

But too many unprofessional considerations went into the production of programs sponsored by the BDF and every TV station was forced to broadcast the shows, forcing the bulk of viewers to tune in to pirate TV stations.

As a consequence, the old three stations suffered and satellite TV reaped the benefits. For instance, TVBS began broadcasting a 9pm political talk show because at that time, the old three stations were broadcasting the programming they were told to broadcast, rather than what the public wanted to see.

This is why the fund has been unable to fulfill the mission it is legally charged with. In comparison, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is highly trusted by the Hong Kong public and still broadcasts its programs on Hong Kong’s TV stations. Its programming has a large audience and is well appreciated. Although Taiwan uses a similar model, its achievements are shamefully limited. With a budget of about NT$1 billion (US$33 million), RTHK only produces 15 hours of programming per week, but it is broadcast by local cable TV stations that enjoy an 80 percent market share. In addition, RTHK has an annual budget of more than NT$1 billion to produce programming for seven radio channels.

Like Hong Kong, Taiwan should provide the public with credible and quality radio and TV programming that will attract a large audience on a daily basis. At the same time, we are faced with an opportunity, or maybe a challenge: If cross-strait talks were also to include TV, then if China’s CCTV channel 4 or 9, or other channels, could be broadcast on a fixed frequency and had to be carried on local Taiwanese TV, what programs would Taiwan choose for Chinese TV to carry?

Whether to compensate for the neglected TV and radio rights of the public over the past 20 years or to welcome the prospect of cross-strait TV and film exchanges, we need a larger production center for producing TV and radio programming, and at the same time we must ensure that programming produced by that center is effectively broadcast. From this perspective, the legislature’s abolishing the legal basis for the BDF can be seen as a seed which may sprout and create opportunities for an even larger fund for producing TV programs.

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