Review committee members for nominees for the Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) board of directors should demand an open and transparent review to avoid becoming a rubber-stamp for the government, a civic watchdog said.
The civic group, formed by media reform advocacy groups and academics, made the call in an open letter on Saturday as it appeared unlikely that the Ministry of Culture would make public the nomination list beforehand.
The ministry is scheduled to hold a review meeting to select a new PTS governing body — the fifth — on Friday.
“If the Ministry of Culture continues to follow in the footsteps of the [now-dissolved] Government Information Office [GIO] and adopts a hasty and sloppy attitude in its review process of the [PTS] board of directors and supervisors, it would be tantamount to an open disregard of PTS’ ‘nature of publicity,’’ the watchdog wrote in the open letter. “It also constitutes an affront to the TV station’s lofty spirit of being open to public participation. Having the fifth board elected under such circumstances would only cause a continuation of past disputes.”
The sitting board members have seen their three-year tenures, which were scheduled to end on Dec. 3, 2010, extended for more than 18 months, the result of judicial wrangling between governing and managers at the public broadcaster.
In June 2009, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature adopted an amendment to the Public Television Act (公共電視法) to raise the number of PTS board members from 13 to 21, followed by the GIO’s prompt appointment of eight directors to the board.
The GIO subsequently filed lawsuits against six board members, including then-acting chairman Cheng Tung-liao (鄭同僚), accusing them of holding illegal meetings without the necessary quorum.
Calling the lawsuits “illegal and baseless,” Cheng counterattacked by filing a provisionary injunction to halt the appointment of eight board members.
In September 2010, then-PTS Foundation president and chief executive Sylvia Feng (馮賢賢), whose term was scheduled to end in December of that year, was abruptly removed from her post on the grounds that she was incompetent, by Chen Sheng-fu (陳勝福), who was later sworn in as acting PTS chairman.
Indignant at the decision, Feng took the case against PTS to court.
On June 5, the Taiwan High Court ruled in favor of Feng on the grounds that she had been barred from attending board meetings while she was stripped of her position, saying that doing so was a violation of the Public Television Act.
“The verdict suggests that all the board meetings held since Chen took office as PTS chairman did not have the required quorum, so all resolutions reached during that period were illegitimate,” Feng said.
On the judicial action leveled against the six board members, including Cheng, Feng said the temporary injunction filed against them were utterly indiscriminate.
“Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) would have to first invalidate that a disposition to restore justice before PTS could actually resume ordinary operations,” she said.
In response to Feng, PTS president Sunshine Kuang (曠湘霞) said operations at the public broadcaster were going smoothly and that she had not come across any obstacle in the more than one year she had been president.
Kuang Chung-hsiang (管中祥), an associate professor at National Chung Cheng University’s Department of communications, said the appointment of PTS board members under the GIO had been done in a secretive manner, with some nominees saying they were unaware they were on the list.
Members of the review committee were therefore forced to carry out evaluations without adequate background checks on candidates or thorough preparations, turning the review process into something of “an impromptu question-and-answer session,” he said.
A newly established agency like the Ministry of Culture should model the appointment process for PTS board members on the mechanism for choosing National Communications Commission members, which includes public ly disclosing nominees prior to official review, he said.
The act stipulates that the PTS’ governing body must consists of between 17 and 21 board members, with between three and five supervisors. It adds that a review committee of between 11 and 15 members be recommended by political parties according to the number of seats each party has in the legislature. An evaluation of the Executive Yuan’s nomination list should then be conducted.
According to Huang Shih-shin (黃世鑫), a review committee member recommended by the Democratic Progressive Party, the ministry had insisted on disclosing the nomination list to the committee on Friday, three hours before the actual review meeting.
Translated by Stacy Hsu, staff writer