The National Communications Commission (NCC) said yesterday that there was no “pundit clause” in its proposed amendment to the Satellite Radio and Television Act (衛星廣播電視法).
NCC spokesperson Lee Ta-sung (李大嵩) said Article 20 of the proposed law stipulated that satellite radio and television service operators should follow the principles of fact-checking and equality when producing and broadcasting news or commentary. That was an expectation set by the law, he said.
“The article does not target any particular program,” Lee said.
The commission made the comments in response to an article in yesterday’s Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) that said Article 20 was the commission’s way of gagging pundits.
In the newspaper article, political commentators slammed the plan as a violation of the freedom of expression.
Former Cabinet spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉), host of Formosa TV’s political commentary show Boss Talk (頭家來開講), called the move “a joke.” He said the amendment would not affect what he says on the show, and added that the NCC was composed of pan-blue members and has its own bias.
Chen Li-hung (陳立宏), a political commentator, said he felt “angry, upset and deep regret” about the planned amendment.
The NCC should pay more attention to justice and fairness in society, rather than what people say on TV, he said.
“The NCC has become a tool that the government uses to control opposition voices,” Chen said. “Criticism of the government is already weak. Is [President] Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] government really so intolerant?”
Political commentators Yang Hsien-hung (楊憲宏) and Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒) both said they thought that the move was unconstitutional and unnecessary.
As inappropriate comments made on TV can be sanctioned through judicial processes, the NCC — as part of the executive branch — should not try to address an issue that falls under the jurisdiction of the judiciary, Yang said.
Political commentator Huang Kuang-chin (黃光芹) said he believed any political commentator who makes groundless accusations would eventually fall out of favor with viewers.
NCC commissioner Weng Hsiao-ling (翁曉玲) said that the law would only penalize those “producing and broadcasting” news if they did not check their facts. Violators may be fined between NT$300,000 (US$8,900) and NT$2 million.
It would not penalize comments made by pundits during shows, she said.
“Statements are either true or false, but comments can be purely subjective,” she said. “Commentators are entitled to give remarks based on evidence or facts that they deem credible.”
Another NCC commissioner, Chung Chi-hui (鍾起惠) said reporters and television news channels should check “facts” provided by pundits and find out whether they are accurate, she said.
“Isn’t that among the basic skills taught in journalism school?” Chung said.
Chung cited the example of a firefighter who was reported to have died while trying to find victims of the Houfeng Bridge collapse last year. The reports were eventually found to be false, but TVBS, SET News (三立新聞) and ERA News (年代新聞) had all reported the “death” as a confirmed fact.
“When the commission investigated, TVBS said their local reporters received their information from volunteers in the fire department, whereas SET and ERA said their source was TVBS,” Chung said.
NCC vice chairman Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said “fact-checking” and “citing” facts are essentially two different things. He said “fact-checking” requires reporters to personally contact the relevant individuals and organizations to verify facts, but “citing” means that reporters simply use facts from other news organizations, although they may prove to be false.
Chung said that the law would also ban the placement of government-sponsored advertisements on news channels and on those for children and young adults.
However, the law would allow the government to buy time on channels not falling into these categories to promote policies, provided that channels clearly inform viewers that the programs are funded or sponsored by government organizations.
Meanwhile, Article 17 of the amended law states that satellite news organizations should establish their own ethics committees to self-regulate news quality.
When asked why the commission felt the need to regulate TV news organizations using the law when the Civil Code and TV stations self-regulatory mechanisms were already supposed to ensure the quality of news, Chung replied by asking if everybody was satisfied with the quality of TV news and said that the answer was obvious.
As the amended law would also allow civic groups to participate in the content review committee, which the NCC normally entrusts to review cases, some have questioned whether the commission has a way to ensure that rulings are not tainted by the agendas of such groups.
“I believe all the representatives would be from organizations with legitimate authority,” she said. “Who will oversee their judgment? I think God and conscience.”
Asked for comment, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus deputy secretary-general Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) praised the proposed amendment, saying that punishing political commentators who fail to present evidence to back their claims would help prevent them from making groundless accusations.
“Although political commentators enjoy freedom of speech, they cannot infringe upon others’ freedom or violate others’ human rights,” she said.
“Political talk shows should not harm others [by allowing commentators to make groundless accusations] just because the programs are trying to increase viewer numbers ... Groundless accusations should be liable to punishment,” she said.
However, KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), a regular guest on such talk shows, criticized the proposed amendment as “redundant.”
Chiu said the proposed amendment was unnecessary because the Criminal Code (刑法) already stipulated punishment for those who made defamatory accusations against others.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) yesterday said her caucus was opposed to the draft amendment, panning it as targeting the pan-green camp.
The proposed amendment aims to restrict political commentators who harbor sympathy toward the pan-green camp from criticizing the KMT government, she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG, CHEN YIN-CHUNG,
NIU PEI-WEI, HUANG YI-CHING AND CNA
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