Several days ago, a decision was made by the National Communications Commission regarding the Want Want China Times Group’s acquisition of the cable TV services owned by China Network Systems.
However, group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) has expressed reservations about some of the conditions. It looks like this case could drag on for some time yet. It serves as food for thought on several points.
Although the commission should have rejected the acquisition in the first place, many questions would have been left unanswered had they done so. There will be similar cases in the future, and this case provides an opportunity to lay the groundwork for addressing them. The Ministry of Culture and the commission now have the chance to devise a timetable and blueprint for how to improve audio-visual media content and the environment in which it is produced. Discussions on switching to digital or on getting the system HD-ready are irrelevant to the discussion. Bombastic political talk show hosts will not be silenced in the switch to digital and poorly written TV dramas are not going to improve just because they are broadcast in high definition.
Objections to the acquisition stem from the need for a vibrant industry and freedom of speech, but there is also the China factor to consider. Taiwan has a special relationship with China and there needs to be a public debate on the importance of a commercial organization like the potential merger between Want Want and China Networks — and the kind of media culture it will cultivate — if mutual understanding between the people of Taiwan and China is to be furthered and if we want Taiwanese broadcast media to make a positive contribution to the media climate in China.
By minimizing the input from China and the revenue derived from non-media sources, it will be easier to control the quality of Taiwanese broadcast media and provide unbiased information about China. When Taiwanese and Chinese news and current affairs broadcasts are shown in both countries, this will facilitate mutual understanding.
Finally, the commission has been remiss in not looking into the state of the broadcast media and the legal issues and problems of accuracy in surveys that have been used.
The Government Information Office, the precursor to the Ministry of Culture, held a major debate on the broadcast media industry back in 2003, but no actual conclusions were drawn disagreements between the pan-green and pan-blue parties and divided public opinion. Nevertheless, it is vital that all aspects of broadcast media are subjected to scrutiny and made completely transparent. This is true for the democratic or cultural issues involved, the special licenses required to operate electronic media, the use of public resources or the quality and fitness of the broadcasters themselves and of the industry overall.
The investigation into the proposed acquisition has been drawn out over a long period of time. This has partly been because the data available has not been authoritative, leading to many conflicting interpretations. The bodies concerned should devise a more detailed set of criteria than currently exists, either through legislative or administrative measures. These would include requiring media providers to submit reports subsequently verified by independent research.