The outgoing fourth Board of Directors and Board of Supervisors of the Public Television Service (PTS) has been fraught with disagreements and disputes. Nevertheless, we believe that if the new board, which has not yet been commissioned, has sufficient expertise and can reflect public opinion, it still has a chance of rebuilding the service and ushering in a new dawn for Taiwan’s public media.
The key question is whether the new board can uphold the independence and professionalism of the services operations, and at the same time establish a pluralistic system of supervision by the public.
The various court cases and disputes that have taken place during the tenure of the fourth PTS board, and the difficulties that have thus far obstructed the commissioning of a fifth board, are partly a result of wrangling between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. However, an even more important cause is that various people involved have meddled in the services operations, while obscuring or perverting the two core values of public media, namely independence and accountability.
Taiwan’s governing and opposition parties, and especially the services’ regulatory authority, which used to be the now-defunct Government Information Office and is now the Ministry of Culture, must bear the greatest share of the blame for the services board’s difficulties and for the slow pace of its development.
In light of the spirit and wording of the Public Television Act (公共電視法), the services board is not meant to be an agent for political parties and it is not supposed to be responsible for managing day-to-day operations either.
There are two roles that the PTS board should play. First, it should act as a guardian to ensure the professionalism of the services’ operations, and second, it should act as a supervisor to uphold public interest.
The incoming board should stop directly intervening in the day-to-day operations of the service and return to its proper roles of guardian and supervisor.
In its role as guardian the board should focus on consolidating and developing the broader group of public broadcasting channels that form the Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS). This task will include coordinating with the regulatory authority, and with the legislature, to make amendments to the Public Television Act allowing the TBS greater resources, enabling it to expand.
Working to integrate the group’s resources, while clearly defining the roles of the various channels and the division of labor among them should be another aim.
The board should select and appoint a suitable and chief executive for the service and give senior management full authority to operate the channels. It should also safeguard the independence and autonomy of people working for the TBS by establishing production and broadcast standards and compiling an autonomy charter, and ensure that staff enjoy good working conditions.
In its role as supervisor and representative of public interest, the board should focus on building links between the service and civic society, setting up method for accountability including periodic evaluations and accreditations of the services’ internal performance. Transparency must also be in place so the public can evaluate what happens.
The board should also make full use of its advisory committee and set up audience feedback so the opinions of viewers, listeners and civic groups can get a response. This could improve the channels’ content and production.
Steps should be taken to reintegrate the service and the TBS. To this end, the board will have to promote democratic consultation within the service, so that the various channels and departments can work smoothly together. Management should communicate effectively with staff and labor unions to promote democratic participation.
Hopefully, the selected committee members nominated will quickly, but professionally, complete the examination and approval process for the new board, so that it can be commissioned early this year without any further hitches and the new directors on the board will not act as managers or behave as agents to political parties: Instead they will act as guardians and supervisors.
Chad Liu is an associate professor in the Department of Communications at National Chung Cheng University. Lin Lih-yun is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Julian Clegg