Mon, Mar 04, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Media freedom requires integration

By Liu Kung-chung 劉孔中

The National Communications Commission’s (NCC) on Feb. 20 proposed a draft broadcasting media monopolization prevention and diversity preservation act that contained 53 articles.

This draft prescribes separate regulations for mergers between radio and television operators, and mergers between newspapers, radio and television operators.

The draft also includes five different sets of controls depending on the level of integration with radio and television operators: no need to report a merger, the merger must be reported; allowing mergers in principle, but prohibiting them in exceptional cases; prohibiting mergers in principle, but allowing them in exceptional cases; and a full ban on mergers.

This is an ambitious draft. It covers many areas and contains many blind spots.

First, laws are based on experience, not logic, and excessive legislation is the enemy of digital convergence. If regulation is too detailed, oversight will cause too much work for civil servants and operators.

It is unrealistic for the NCC to expect the public to happily accept these new regulations in such a short period, especially when no one has any experience of such laws and when no comprehensive market surveys are available.

This is not a good legislative strategy at a time when passing legislation is difficult due to the standoff between the pan-blue and the pan-green camps, and because of disputes between other sectors of society.

Why not only regulate the kind of cross-media monopolization that cannot be regulated using current legislation?

Other cases could be left to the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法), the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法) and the Cable Radio and Television Act (有線廣播電視法).

If legislation could be created after the necessary experience has been gained, achieving public acceptance of such legislation would be much easier.

Second, the NCC hopes that this draft will work both as a stick and a carrot. This is why the third chapter of the draft has 11 articles dealing with maintaining professionalism and autonomy in the media.

While these regulations do address encouragement of guidance and subsidies, those who understand the situation know that the NCC has a limited budget and therefore it is just empty talk.

What is worrying is that with these regulations, the NCC brings printed media under its control in one swoop. No wonder printed media outlets that have been free from control are objecting, claiming the NCC is extending its power.

It must be understood that however well intentioned a law to protect the media is, the end result will always be to limit, rather than promote, press freedom, professionalism and independence.

The only way to proceed seems to be by establishing a smart public-private cooperation mechanism.

Third, many regulations in the draft prohibit integration, viewing it as being illegal per se. The aim is to draw a clear lines, to make regulation simpler and cheaper.

However, in many other countries current laws regarding competition, including regular competition law and sector competition law, are now moving away from this approach, which neither needs nor allows discussion, and are instead moving toward an approach based on the rule of reason, in which the pros and cons of each case are considered before deciding whether to approve it.

The UK has the 20:20 ownership rule, but this only applies to sprecific channels and is not a general law.

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