Tue, Dec 23, 2008 - Page 8 News List

New rules could stifle public TV’s mandate

By Feng Chien-san 馮建三

Dec. 10 marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is ironic that the Public Television Service Foundation (PTS), a platform for public dialog and debate, is relying on commercials placed by supporters to argue its case. The purpose is to argue that the station, which is already having difficulties, should not be further stifled by new regulations. They call on the legislature to release NT$450 million (US$14 million) from the station’s budget that has been frozen for nearly a year.

PTS also said that while three public television channels — Taiwan Indigenous Television, Taiwan Hakka Television and Taiwan Macroview Television — serve people for whom, respectively, the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Council for Hakka Affairs and the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission are responsible, these government departments should allow the stations to maintain responsibility for programming and not, as is being proposed, direct their day-to-day affairs.

PTS was established a decade ago, and the Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS), which includes the four aforementioned networks plus the Chinese Television System (CTS), was set up a little over two years ago. The logic in their first major public dialog with the legislature would not be contested in any mature democracy: Yes, political intervention is needed to establish a public media network, but political forces should not direct their day-to-day affairs or programming.

Only at the initial stage does a government need to exercise judgment in selecting a management team with impeccable qualifications. Thereafter it should hand over to those professionals full responsibility for running the organization.

There may be questions as to whether the PTS management team is the most competent possible, but there is also a greater and more urgent matter to which government officials and legislators should give serious attention — the draft Public Service Broadcasting and Television Act proposed by the CTS employees’ union.

Since the passage of the Public Television Service Act (公共電視法), public broadcasting has evolved from one channel — PTS — into five analog channels and a number of digital services, but changes in funding for these services now mean that the law no longer provides sufficient coverage or guidance.

Taiwan also has a number of government-run radio stations with many years’ standing. It is necessary to amend the law or introduce a new one to cover the role that these play and how they are managed.

During its eight years in power, the Democratic Progressive Party administration showed little concern for the matter. However, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government cannot just blame the previous regime for this state of affairs. Otherwise, the transfer of power will have been pointless, and politicians will lose the chance to activate and lead public opinion.

Taiwan’s media environment has been declining for many years. “Diversity” here amounts to interest groups seeking outlets for expression according to their commercial interests. All the more need, then, for public media to rectify the situation via moderation and balance.

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