It is regrettable how the current National Communications Commission (NCC) commissioners are handling issues directly involving the future of Taiwan’s broadcasting industry.
They are doing almost nothing to counteract the increasingly monolithic Taiwanese media discourse. Taiwan’s diverse and vital television industry is shriveling as unconscionable financial groups infiltrate and use commercial interests to coerce the government to eliminate dissent, manufacture public opinion and dumb down content — all of which turns the news business into a manufacturing industry.
Given these challenges, the incoming commission faces an difficult situation. However, when one looks at the professional background of the current NCC commissioners, none of them have the academic knowledge, expertise or ability to deal with the critical issues at stake.
The NCC has in effect been pared down to an organization that only deals with communications, rather than one which deals with broadcasting issues. It has been alleged that the selection of this group was connected to former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) — who is currently facing a major corruption probe — and is said to have influenced the commissioner nomination process. If that is true, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and the Cabinet of Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) are entirely inept and guilty of misrule. In addition to corruption among top officials, there are also policy mistakes that might be even more frightening.
The Ma administration and the NCC are giving free rein to cable service providers to expand. Not only are they using commercial means to restrict free speech, but TV system operators are also getting massive bonuses from content providers to run their content.
In addition, as some system operators own content channels, they essentially become both referee and player. This violates fair trade rules and leads to unfair competition. Yet still the government sits on the sidelines and does absolutely nothing.
The future NCC must live up to its responsibilities. When it comes to assigning channels, the commission must not let system operators behave as they please and should instead reestablish its public authority. A public management mechanism, potentially run by NGOs, could also be useful.
The commission must also determine the legality of the practice among operators who, on the one hand charge viewers hefty monthly subscription fees, while on the other charge content providers “slotting fees.”
Under the strict review process of the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法), the NCC should not allowed to simply stand by and watch as some content providers are still being forced to pay the slotting fees.
Free speech and cultural diversity — the main goals of the communications and broadcasting industry — are under attack from these vested commercial interests.
The new crop of NCC commissioners must not be allowed to simply sit on the sidelines any longer.
Yang Hsien-hung works in the media industry.
Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat