Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 3 News List

License rejections spark heated row

FURIOUS FLURRY Political parties as well as media watchdog groups are up in arms after the government refused operating-license renewals of seven TV channels

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government's recent rejection of the license-renewal applications of seven TV channels has caused a flurry in the media industry and touched off a heated debate in the political arena.

At issue is whether the government has the right to meddle in the operating affairs of media outlets and whether the government's media-supervisory mechanism helps contain the chaotic and dis-organized condition of the media. Some even wonder whether the decision reflects the government's political interests.

The Government Information Office's (GIO) review committee decided late last Sunday night that seven TV channels did not pass the final round of review and had to stop broadcasting in two days' time.

In the meantime, "quality programs" had to be provided to fill the slots on the basis of "broadcast first, review later." Other channels that passed the review could also lose their licenses in three months' time if they fail to adhere to a self-discipline agreement devised among the TV stations themselves.

In addition to the seven TV channels, 14 more channels stop-ped broadcasting last Tuesday when their licenses expired. One of them did not complete the application process and 13 others failed to file applications for review of their licenses.

The matter has raised concerns with international media-watchdog groups such as Reporters Without Borders.

Dismay

The organization on Friday issued a statement to voice its dismay over the government's abrupt closure of the commercial stations -- including a news station, ETTV-S, and six others that focused mainly on entertainment.

The organization called on Prime Minister Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) to rescind the decision and ensure that the licenses, especially that of ETTV-S, are renewed.

"This decision clearly constitutes a serious press-freedom violation and a disturbing signal to cable-TV operators and TV executives, who will now have to work with a threat hanging over them," Reporters Without Borders said.

"It is unacceptable that the broadcast-license system should be subordinate to political interests," it said.

The organization said that the Taiwanese government should put an end to such an "arbitrary system" and create a fully independent entity to issue licenses.

ETTV-S has filed an appeal with the Taipei High Administrative Court, asking for a three-month grace period to give it time to look after its 300 employees' interests.

It has also filed an injunction against the government decision and moved its programs to another channel owned by the same group.

All six of the other stations have vowed to appeal. Some of them threaten to stage a larger demonstration if the GIO fails to respond to their requests this week.

Politics

On the political front, opposition parties have cast doubt on the government's media-reform program and cooked up various theories about what led to the GIO's decision last week.

They charge that the review process is a "black-box operation" and that the government is acting "despotically." They also threaten to refuse reviewing the GIO's annual budget during this coming legislative session.

They speculate that the GIO's rejection of ETTV-S' renewal application has been to make room for a pro-independence broadcaster which plans to launch a TV station by next year.

They also suggest that the denial of ETTV-S' renewal application is related to Hsieh's alleged personal displeasure about not receiving as much media coverage as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌).

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