Sun, Oct 07, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Taiwan needs truly public media

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

During media literacy lectures, I put the following question to my students: Do you think, simply by your telling me which TV channel is on at 9pm in your household, I would be able to guess whether you voted for then-presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the 2016 presidential election?

The students’ response is invariably to grin, then nod feverishly and concede that, indeed, I would.

This is, of course, quite dismaying, as it raises two very important points. First, media outlets in Taiwan have their own standpoints, especially with regard to political issues, and they always present one-sided viewpoints and ideas, essentially indoctrinating their audience.

The second is that the partisan nature of the overall media environment has, for all intents and purposes, already split Taiwan into two countries. The question is: Is there anything to be done about the parlous situation?

The partisan mire that Taiwanese media are trapped in can only be cured by an objective, diverse public broadcasting system.

I have had two stints in a supervisory role at the Public Television Service (PTS) and understand all too well how the public’s suspicions of a public media system derive from the performance of PTS over the past 20 years. It is difficult for many to believe that the system can be trusted to be objective and independent.

However, this in itself should not be a reason to oppose the idea of a public media system. For example, Taiwan’s democratic system has faced serious challenges over the past few years, but not many would propose that the nation return to the time of authoritarian rule.

Given the less-than-ideal performance of PTS, then, it might be better for people to knuckle down and think about how it can be improved so that it can meet the public’s expectations, rather than just give up on it.

It is with this end in mind that the Ministry of Culture has proposed amendments to the Public Television Act (公共電視法) and the creation of a public media act. This move is to be applauded.

Judging by the draft public media act, the creation of a public media foundation should be beneficial to the domestic content provision industry, nurturing the overall broadcasting environment.

The legislation would also promote broadcasting overseas, fostering international cooperation and exchanges, as well as exporting Taiwanese cultural content, and see the creation of more ethnic channels, promoting the development of more diverse, multicultural content and requiring channels specializing in specific ethnic groups.

All of these are changes that the public has wanted to see and one can only hope that they will, in fact, be realized through the passage of this bill.

The most significant change that will come with the change of the Public Television Act to a public media law will be the merger of Radio Taiwan International (RTI) and the Central News Agency (CNA) within two years of its passage, under articles 54 and 55.

This will see the merger of three institutions — RTI, CNA and PTS — putting the more than 1,000 employees of the institutions within one organization.

In the past, CNA was repurposed from being the communications branch of a political party to a so-called “national news agency,” although it continued to play the role of a government mouthpiece.

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