Sat, Apr 21, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Media ownership and democracy

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

I have lost count of how many times the proposed amendments to the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法) that would repeal the ban on the government, political parties and the military from investing in the mass media have come and gone in the legislature over the years. Although the pan-blue and pan-green camps have a longstanding consensus and although there has been yet another transition of government power, the amendments have not been passed.

This is not an issue about investment approach or shareholding percentages. What matters is that the proposed amendments go against democratic ideals and highlight the selfish motives of those in power, and this is why the articles cannot be abolished.

Putting aside the principle that the radio waves belong to all citizens, it is a basic democratic requirement that the government, political parties and the military should not to be involved in the operation of broadcast media. The idea is simple and should be understood by everyone: The supervised should never own its supervisor.

Think about it: If the government, which, of course, should be supervised, can own the media that supervises it, would this still be a democracy?

One cannot help but wonder whether the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was playing politics or if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was just plain dumb when the act was amended in 2003: Article 5-1 was added to prohibit the involvement of the government, political parties and the military in media businesses — the so-called “party, government and military clauses” — but not a single word was deleted from Article 5, which allows the government to establish media outlets.

Article 5-1 stipulates that, “[the] government and political parties, as well as foundations established with endowments provided by them, and those commissioned by them, may not directly or indirectly invest in privately operated radio/television businesses.”

However, Article 5 states that, “[those] established for specific purposes by the government in the name of the government are publicly operated radio/television businesses.”

On closer look, one can see that barring the government, political parties and the military from investing in privately operated media businesses in Article 5-1 has very little to do with Article 5, which allows the government to establish publicly operated media businesses.

However, juxtaposing these two articles reveals a fundamental contradiction between the two.

After the 2003 amendment, the government is not allowed to invest in privately operated media businesses, but it can still set up a publicly operated media business for a specific purpose. Hakka Radio, which was launched in June last year, was set up by the Hakka Affairs Council in accordance with Article 5.

In other words, even if Article 5-1 is deleted, the government can still own media businesses based on Article 5, and as long as Article 5 stays, the “party, government and military clauses” are a non-issue and nothing more than a trick played by the DPP and the KMT.

Deleting only Article 5-1, but keeping Article 5 intact would allow the government 100 percent ownership of media businesses: This kind of amendment does not make any sense, nor does it comply with the goal of having the government, political parties and the military pull out of media.

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