The Public Television Service (PTS) budget bill has pitted Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators against PTS and the clash between the two sides is becoming more and more serious.
This is no longer a conflict between the pan-blue and pan-green political parties, but a matter of political intervention in the management of PTS.
Media freedom is an essential foundation for democratic politics and it is protected by Article 11 of the Constitution, which reads: “The people shall have freedom of speech, teaching, writing and publication.”
Constitutional interpretations 364, 613 and 623 also stress the importance of protecting media freedom. The major reason why media freedom is protected by the Constitution is that the communication and broadcast media serve as a medium and a platform for public opinion and, in democratically and constitutionally ruled countries, they supervise the state authorities and political parties.
Media freedom does not only mean passively preventing intervention by the authorities, but also actively demanding that legislators assume their obligations to legislate and set up systems, procedures and regulations aimed at preventing information monopolies and ensuring the expression and spread of diversified public opinion, thus creating a free forum for social debate.
The media is of such great importance that any dictatorial regime wants to control it and manipulate its content and direction by any possible means. The autonomy of the communication and broadcast media has thus become the most important part of the protection of media freedom.
The question of whether such autonomy is protected has become an important index for the democratic development of a country. Based on this concern, political parties and the government withdrew from the management of electronic media outlets and PTS was established during Taiwan’s democratization process.
Compared with commercial TV stations, PTS is run as a non-profit organization with a mission to serve the public. As such, in a way it serves to maintain the survival of the communication and broadcasting media.
In order to continue this mission and avoid intervention by the government, corporations and other interest groups, legislators must devote themselves to protecting the independence and autonomy of the PTS’ operations, both legally and financially.
When PTS was first established, the situation did not allow it to levy license fees on subscribers as, for example, the BBC, the public broadcasting system in Germany and NHK do.
Therefore, in terms of financial protection, not only does PTS need to source its own financial resources, but the government also needs to provide it with certain subsidies to organize cultural activities. The purpose of these subsidies is to protect the independence and autonomy of PTS’ operations so that it can carry out the aforementioned constitutional obligations, rather than to provide the government or political parties with an opportunity to intervene in PTS’ programming.
If political parties or politicians were to intervene in the management of PTS by way of its budget, it would clearly be unconstitutional.
In addition, Taiwan’s media environment would return to the Martial Law era and the government would then become the target of international censure.