The time is now ripe for reform of the NCC

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德  / 

Wed, Jul 26, 2006 - Page 8

The decision by the Council of Grand Justices ruling the National Communications Commission (NCC) unconstitutional has sparked another spat between the government and opposition.

Despite announcing that Article 4 of the Organic Law of the NCC (國家通訊傳播委員會組織法) is unconstitutional, the grand justices ruled that all decisions made by the commission so far remain valid. The council also gave commission members a period of grace, saying that the legislature must amend the organic law by Dec. 31, next year. Thus, NCC members' three-year terms remain valid if they do not resign.

Politics prevailed from the founding of the NCC. Even after the council ruled the NCC unconstitutional, political calculation still dominates the thinking of commission members. Their refusal to step down will sabotage the organization's credibility and independence. and will turn the NCC into another battlefield for rival political camps.

The council's ruling has both constitutional and political implications. According to Article 4 of the Organic Law of the NCC, political parties will "recommend" 15 nominees out of the 18 on the commission. These 15 had to be apportioned based on the proportion of the parties' legislative seats, meaning the major party in the legislature would have most seats on the commission. The premier selected the final three nominees. All 18 nominees were required to gain the approval of a nomination committee.

Article 16 regulated that any punishment meted out to media organizations prior to the commission's establishment could be reconsidered upon appeal. Constitutionally speaking, the legal basis of the NCC interfered with the Cabinet's exercise of power. Grand justices believed that Article 4 infringed the Cabinet's authority as the nation's top administrative government office, which is protected by the Constitution. Since the Constitution vests the power to appoint government officials in the hands of the executive branch, the composition of the NCC based largely on partisan interests, violated the principle of political independence of such a media watchdog mechanism.

The fact that pan-blues have taken advantage of their majority in the legislature and its review authority to approve their favorite candidates has run against the premier's constitutional powers.

As with so many laws passed by the pan-blue controlled legislature in recent years, the NCC's organic law is tailored to suit the interests of the pan-blue parties and to enlarge the legislature's powers. Such partisan-driven political maneuvering is not only detrimental to democratic evolution but also to press freedom.

The nation's rapid democratic change since 2000 has not necessarily brought about healthy political development or a fair, yet competitive media culture. Instead, what we have witnessed is a lack of professionalism and overemphasis on trivial stories from our media. In most cases it has become a tool for politicians.

Opinion polls increasingly show that people have become suspicious of the media and increasingly adept at spotting its attempts at manipulation. People now see the media as a kind of special-interest group, no more objective or independent than any other group in its views.

To untie the political knots of the pan-green/pan-blue struggle, any attempt to forge an independent media watchdog organization must exclude political influence.

To play a constructive role as the "fourth branch of the government," we need a non-partisan, truly independent NCC. There should be no political interference in the nomination and review procedure of selecting its members. Only through institutionalization of the NCC and exclusion of political influence can we enjoy a free and healthy media.

Liu Kuan-teh is a Taipei-based political commentator.