Last week, Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) made his first report to the legislature’s educational committee. While this was reported by media the following day, an in-depth discussion of what he said was apparently less interesting than his poker-faced delivery and the fact that he relied on a raft of notes.
This is not all that surprising. In the past decade, a total of 11 GIO ministers have come and gone, few of them making much of a mark for themselves and almost none leaving behind policies of note. In this instance however, there is a good chance that Chiang will be the last GIO minister, so he has a unique opportunity to tie up loose ends before he closes shop.
The GIO has been charged with managing and providing guidelines for broadcast media since its inception in 1973. Some of its responsibilities were handed over to the National Communications Commission (NCC) in November 2006 and, according to a draft amendment to the Organic Act of the Executive Yuan (行政院組織法), which has already passed its third reading in the legislature, all duties related to radio and TV are to be taken over by a “Department of Culture” in November 2012.
Despite this, the GIO will remain the government body in charge of broadcast media for the next 20 months and it is therefore up to the minister to deal with problems inherited from his predecessors, especially those related to public broadcasting.
A case in point — and one that is of much concern right now — is the brouhaha over the Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) board of directors. Between 2007 and last year the GIO made some ill-advised nominations for the board, sowing the seeds of the current controversy.
This has not only thrown the management of public broadcasting into crisis, but has also caused the Control Yuan to launch an investigation into the GIO. The past few months have seen members of the board, old and new, locked in a legal battle that has rendered the new board impotent.
With these internal animosities at play, how can the board possibly run the public broadcasting service and meet public expectations? It is up to the GIO to cut through the Gordian knot and bring the parties concerned, including warring board members, civil groups and the public, to the table to discuss related issues.
Furthermore, Chiang should cooperate fully with the Control Yuan investigation into the GIO’s role in the sorry mess and learn from such mistakes as are deemed to have been made.
An essential move to get to the root of the problem is the urgently needed revision to public broadcasting legislation. Successive GIO chiefs have failed to introduce amendments to this legislation since the enactment of the Statute on the Disposition of Government Shareholdings in the Terrestrial Television Industry (無線電視事業公股處理條例) in September 2005, which allowed TV stations to become public entities and merge with each other. There remains a long list of issues that urgently need to be addressed, including the board of directors dispute, unclear definitions and relationships and unpredictable running costs.
Chiang should take responsibility for these failings and launch dialogue with concerned civil groups, the media and academics to come up with a new blueprint for broadcast media in Taiwan.
It’s an unenviable task, but we must hope that Chiang does not choose to just pass it on to the next guy, deciding it is too intractable a problem for an institution that has less than two years left before it disappears from the political landscape.
If he passes the buck, the malaise in public broadcasting could become untreatable and the GIO would go down in history as little more than the propaganda arm of a party-state apparatus. Chiang would be dismissed as a mere caretaker minister in the last days of the institution. Is that what he wants? And more importantly, doesn’t the public deserve better?
Let us hope that Chiang has it in him to at least sow the seeds of hope in the very short time he has been given by presenting new possibilities for public broadcasting. It can’t hurt his reputation. After all, a happy ending is a good ending and it might just lead to a good beginning.
Lin Lih-yuan is an assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of Journalism, National Taiwan University.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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