Tue, Oct 10, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Public media need consolidation

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) has said that she intends to update the Public Television Act (公共電視法) to make it a “Public Media Act” with a wider scope.

Putting aside whether her vision is achievable, it is worth waiting to see whether she is able to formulate a blueprint that provides a solution to the argument over which is better — small and beautiful or big and powerful — that for so long has dominated the public broadcasting debate.

Every year since its establishment in 1998, the Public Television Service’s (PTS) annual budget has remained frozen at a meager NT$900 million (US$29.63 million).

It might seem prudent to limit expenditure based on the ideal of maintaining a lean and efficient service, but, as the saying goes, even the cleverest chef cannot cook without rice.

Put another way, “small is beautiful” can in reality mean weak and not very beautiful at all.

Compared with the UK’s BBC and Japan’s NHK, which both receive more than NT$200 billion annually, PTS’ NT$900 million pales into insignificance.

What about South Korea, which has a population twice the size of Taiwan? Its public broadcaster, KBS, has an annual budget of more than NT$40 billion — 48 times more than PTS’ budget.

This means that KBS was able to spend NT$50 million per episode on its historical fantasy TV drama The Legend, while PTS could only spend NT$6 million per episode for its period drama A Touch of Green (一把青) and had to drum up private sponsorships.

Most nations place a strong emphasis on so-called soft power. If Taiwan were to pursue a policy of expanding its public broadcasting output, it would not only enrich the domestic cultural scene, but also help promote Taiwan to the world.

The achieve this, the nation could first, increase the production budgets for television programs; second, enhance its media platforms to achieve operational synergies; and third, elevate the public service and cultural duties of public broadcasters.

The reason that size equals strength for a public media organization is simple: The global media industry is in a war of attrition. This is especially true for televisual media, for which a shortage of manpower or capital can be fatal.

The government should put its full weight behind the development of public media and increase budgets to improve their strength and enable them to do more.

This is also an age of group warfare. The nation’s private media companies all provide a full range of platforms, but public broadcasters, although they like to refer to themselves as broadcasting corporations, consist of only three channels: PTS, CTS and Hakka TV, and no radio stations.

The public broadcasters need to expand their scope, provide content across the full spectrum of platforms and build operational synergies to expand.

To increase the footprint of public broadcasting, it is essential that broadcasters operate on more platforms.

In line with Cheng’s statements, the Central News Agency (CNA) and Radio Taiwan International (RTI) should be merged into a corporation that includes television, radio and news.

By drawing upon the strengths of CNA, the new broadcaster would be able to provide a wider perspective to its international news coverage, rather than simply acting as a conduit for powerful global news organizations, whose coverage is often littered with bias.

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