When the Ministry of Culture announced the nominees for the Public Television Service’s (PTS) fifth board of directors on Aug. 7, the list was highly praised by all sides. However, on the eve of the review meeting, rumor had it that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might use the meeting to secure the appointment of former Council for Cultural Affairs chairperson Tchen Yu-chiou (陳郁秀) as PTS chairperson. In the end, the review committee only approved three nominees at the meeting, despite the DPP’s denial of the rumor.
Currently, members of the review committee are recommended by political parties based proportionally on their representation in the legislature. A threshold of three-quarters of the 15-member review committee is required for approval of a board member or supervisor, both of which are unpaid posts. Then the board members vote on a chairperson. The results of this process have been unsatisfactory over the past 14 years and the latest results are the worst ever.
When the high threshold was designed, Taiwan had not had a transition of government power. Now, the situation has changed dramatically, and it is time to amend the outdated law. Learning from international examples, the Cabinet should directly nominate the PTS chairperson and its board members and supervisors, and these nominations should then be sent to the legislature for approval in the spirit of accountable politics.
In the US, for example, the head of the Public Broadcasting Fund is directly nominated by the president and approved or vetoed by the Senate.
If power and accountability could be more complementary, we might have a better opportunity to switch focus to what is important when dealing with public broadcasting-related personnel disputes in future. The reason for this is, on one hand, although we might be unable to eliminate disputes over the political position of a nominee — just as in other countries with a longer history of public broadcasting than Taiwan — the public could gradually get used to the phenomenon.
We will get used to this because that is what has happened in other countries. The conditions for true reviews of nominees are not yet ripe in Taiwan, and that is why more attention is now being paid to this issue.
When that happens, the vision, reputation, character, leadership, performance and professionalism of those setting the direction for Taiwan’s public broadcasting media will be generally known and assessed fairly and rationally. Only when that happens can we make sure, with the help of public monitoring, that they will take Taiwan’s society and public welfare into consideration instead of personal gain. Only then will they stop considering, or at least only consider to a reasonable extent, the likelihood of their being reelected.
Feng Chien-san is a professor of journalism at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Eddy Chang