Toward the end of 2011, Belgium’s main political parties managed to cobble together a national government after the country had gone without one for a year and a half. Before that, the nation’s “state of anarchy” had set a new world record by dragging on for 541 days. However, despite the lack of a government, by some miracle, Belgium went on functioning normally, and its trains were even reported to be more punctual than ever.
However, Belgium’s period of “anarchy” falls short of the interregnum that has beset the Public Television Service (PTS). The service’s fifth board of directors and supervisors, which, according to the law, should have been formed at the end of 2010, has still not been commissioned. This means that the fourth board’s term has dragged on for an extra 900 days. What is more, the Public Television Act (公共電視法) sets the term for each board at three years, so the system has been in suspended animation for nearly a full term.
This explains why Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), when answering legislators’ questions last week, could describe PTS’ predicament as an international scandal. Maybe she was exaggerating a little, but the length of time for which PTS has now been leaderless is indeed an embarrassing kind of “Taiwan miracle.” However, what Lung did not explain is how this predicament came about.
On Tuesday last week, the Control Yuan announced the results of its investigation into the delay in commissioning the PTS board, which found the Cabinet and the Ministry of Culture seriously negligent. The report proposed corrective measures to be taken both by the Cabinet and by the ministry, which took over responsibility for supervising PTS after the Government Information Office (GIO) was abolished.
The Control Yuan’s report says that the Legislative Yuan’s selection committee failed to approve enough of the Cabinet’s first list of board nominees proposed in 2010, and that the Cabinet has not proposed a new list since. It notes that even after the Control Yuan proposed its first set of corrective measures, the Cabinet took no action to implement them. The Cabinet was clearly negligent in this respect, the report says.
It says that two consecutive leaders of the now-defunct GIO — Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) and Philip Yang (楊永明) — allowed the commissioning of the board to be delayed by a year and seven months — “without good reason.” It says that Lung appears to be trying harder, since the ministry has put forward nominee lists three times since it took over supervision of the station.
However, a new board still has not been formed and so the Control Yuan found that the Cabinet and the regulatory departments (the GIO and the ministry) have violated the terms of the Public Service Functionary Act (公務員服務法). The act states that civil servants must strive earnestly to carry out their duties, and that they should not evade difficult tasks, try to shift responsibility onto one another or put tasks off for no good reason.
The report addresses the delay in forming a new board, but this has not been the only holdup. The Public Television Act has been in need of amendment ever since the 2006 enactment of the Act on the Disposition of Government Shareholdings in the Terrestrial Television Industry (無線電視事業公股處理條例), but six years later, the Cabinet, legislature and political parties have still not finished amending the Public Television Act. Because of this delay, the Taiwan Broadcasting System has still not been formally established, while the nation’s media environment continues to deteriorate.
If the current impasse over the PTS board is a “scandal,” the cause of this scandal lies not with public broadcasting itself, but with negligent and lazy Cabinet agencies, as well as politicians and parties who seek to meddle in the operations of the station. Clearly, then, the way to clear up this scandal is not to abolish the station, but to stop parties and politicians from interfering in its operations, as well as to get on with amending the law and to consolidate the public broadcasting system.
The best thing to do right now would be to scrap the so-called “Lin Yi-shih (林益世) clause” by cutting the PTS board’s membership to a reasonable number, so that the fifth board can be established without further ado.
Lin was a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip in 2009 when he and other KMT lawmakers first unlawfully froze the station’s budget and then proposed an amendment to raise the membership of its board from between 11 and 15 people to between 17 and 21. This membership increase, along with political interference, led to disputes over the makeup of the board, which in turn is what led to the current impasse.
If the legislature changes the number of board members back to the original number, the 13 new members who have already been selected will be able to take up their posts straightaway, putting an end to PTS’ record-breaking state of anarchy.
The Public Television Act was formulated based on the media environment of the late 1990s in terms of the size of the corporation and its funding. The situation envisaged was having one public TV station to provide balance for four commercial wireless stations.
In this day and age, with many more commercial TV stations in operation, PTS alone cannot possibly perform its intended function of compensating for the inadequacy of commercial TV. Therefore, the Cabinet and legislature should hurry up and finish the process of deliberating amendments to the Public Television Act so that PTS can function. Only when that is done can the “scandal” that Lung talked about be cleared up for good.
Chad Liu is an associate professor of communications at National Chung Cheng University.
Translated by Julian Clegg