Critics yesterday decried the dismissal of former Public Television Service Foundation president and chief executive Sylvia Feng (馮賢賢), calling it the latest example of political maneuvering in the long-running dispute over the embattled public broadcaster
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and media watchdog organizations yesterday expressed concern about the shake-up after Feng and her deputy were dismissed by the Public Television Service’s (PTS) board last month.
Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera director Chen Sheng-fu (陳勝福), a strong Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) supporter, has been officially sworn in as acting chairman.
“We would like to express our solidarity with Sylvia Feng in her defense of PTS’ independence,” Reporters Sans Frontieres Asia director Vincent Brossel wrote in a statement. “It is disturbing to see a power struggle at the head of PTS being won by the ruling party’s supporters.”
Problems began for the nation’s first public broadcaster in June last year after the legislature passed an amendment to the Public Television Act (公共電視法) enlarging the PTS’ board of directors. The Government Information Office (GIO), which funds PTS, immediately appointed eight new directors.
The decision paralyzed day-to-day operations at the broadcaster after the Control Yuan wrote that there were major flaws in procedures surrounding the appointments. In January, an injunction was granted by the Taipei District Court to prevent the new directors from taking office.
Three months later, the GIO filed a lawsuit against six of the 11 remaining directors, accusing them of illegally holding meetings without the necessary two-thirds’ attendance. In a counter suit, the group said they were legally mandated to hold meetings once a month to continue PTS operations.
In its annual report on press freedom earlier this year, in which Taiwan dropped four places from last year, US-based Freedom House highlighted the PTS dispute as a reason behind the downgrading. Taiwan ranked No. 47 in April, a 14-place drop from 2008.
In an online statement on Monday, Freedom House raised questions as to whether the leadership change had political implications, coming just two months before the special municipality elections. Candidates in the elections are expected to participate in a debate organized by PTS prior to the polls.
“It is our hope that the recent steps are not a reflection of PTS succumbing to the polemical character of much of today’s media in Taiwan,” Freedom House’s director of studies Christopher Walker said in the statement. “We encourage Taiwan’s policymakers to ensure that PTS does not become a casualty of political conflict.”
Feng said she might take legal action against the new acting chairperson and has characterized her dismissal as politically motivated.
Under Feng, PTS refused to provide extensive coverage broadcast the Taipei International Flora Expo that opens in November, despite having shown last year’s World Games in Kaohsiung live.
The flora expo is a critical component of Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) re-election bid.
Feng said the two decisions were unrelated and that media organizations should be free to choose which events they covered without government interference.
Her position has been supported by the DPP, which said yesterday that her firing would affect the independence of the broadcaster.