Thousands of Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) employees and viewers — as well as members of civic groups — took to the streets and formed “human dominoes” outside the Legislative Yuan yesterday to protest against political intervention in media affairs.
“The invisible hand of politics should leave Public Television Service [PTS] alone because it belongs to the public,” Media Watch chairman Kuang Chung-shiang (管中祥) told a crowd gathered on Liberty Square before the start of the parade. “Government institutions such as the Council for Hakka Affairs and the Council of Indigenous Peoples also need to keep their hands off the Hakka and Aboriginal TV stations.”
PTS, Hakka Television Service and Taiwan Indigenous Television Service (TITV) are all affiliates of TBS, which is funded mainly by the government. The law states that the three government-funded channels “belong to the public” and should operate independently.
However, a resolution proposed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) and passed last month by a legislative committee states that all TBS program budgets should be reviewed on a case by case basis, raising concern among media reform activists.
The KMT caucus, the Government Information Office (GIO) and the Presidential Office have said that the review will only focus on the budget and not program content. This has failed to convince TBS employees and activists.
“Some lawmakers accused TITV of being anti-[President] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), claiming that TITV's news reports only attacked Ma and the Council of Indigenous Peoples,” TITV director Masao Aki said, adding that “part of our budgets were frozen by the legislature in 2007 and last year.”
A Hakka Television Service employee, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation, told the Taipei Times that government intervention was evident.
“They [the Council for Hakka Affairs] want to get their hands on everything. They always have something to say about the content of our news programs, they ‘suggest’ what they want to see in our shows. They have even asked us to change the names of some shows that they didn't like,” the TV employee said.
“The former [Democratic Progressive Party] government did sometimes make comments about our programs, but not as much as the present government,” the employee added. “I'm afraid that the problem will only get worse now that they have a legal basis for controlling our budget.”
The demonstrators held signs and shouted slogans calling for the government to keep its hands off the media as they marched to lay “siege” to the legislature.
After surrounding the legislature, the marchers sat on the ground and formed “human dominoes,” with the participants — each holding a sign that read “Save PTS” — lying back on the people behind them.
Citizens Congress Watch executive director and demonstration organizer Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said the move symbolized people power pushing against all negative things emanating from the legislature.
GIO Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said yesterday that he had stepped in to mediate disagreements between the two sides, hoping to find a mutually satisfying resolution.
Su, however, refused to comment on whether the KMT-backed resolution constituted political intervention, saying there was “still room for discussion.”
Su also defended the KMT's draft resolution, saying what the party wanted was to ensure that management at PTS would be more transparent.