Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Independent body is badly needed

OBJECTIVITY Only when the government establishes an independent review committee that acts openly and publicly will questions of political influence be allayed

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Regulations and the license renewal process for broadcast media outlets vary from country to country. Media experts said the establishment of an independent regulator and the active participation of civic groups were necessary for a more mature media regulatory system, such as the evaluation systems used in Western countries.

Compared with Taiwan's media evaluation system, in which the Government Information Office (GIO) makes decisions under powers accorded it by the Satellite Broadcasting Law (衛星廣播電視法), broadcast media regulation in countries like Britain and the US is performed by agencies which act independently even though they may be appointed by the government.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.

According to Lo Shih-hung (羅世宏), one of the current GIO license review committee members and an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University's Graduate Institute of Telecommunications, although the FCC is established by the US government and its five commissioners are appointed by the president, it is an independent agency and solicits opinions from the public by holding public hearings and publishing the hearing records on its Web site.

The FCC regulates the licensing of radio and broadcast TV stations. Licenses for cable TV stations and charged channels, however, are not under the FCC's control.

The FCC may punish cable TV stations with fines for showing indecent programs, but it does not interfere in cable stations' license issues and applies loose regulatory principles to program content, probably to respect the market and protect paying viewers' rights, according to Lo.

If the FCC wants to revoke a license, the committee must make public a detailed report on the cause of the revocation. License holders have a right of appeal against the FCC's decision.

"But usually appeals or the kind of controversy that has just happened in Taiwan does not happen much in the US. I think that's because the review process is very transparent and license holders are given the chance to defend themselves during the process," Lo said.

In the UK the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries was established in 2003. It applies strict principles in the regulation of television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

While it is easy to apply a media license, and licenses have no expiry date, therefore do not need regular renewal, Ofcom holds great power to regulate a wide range of electronic communication services, including media programs and advertisement contents, and can revoke a media outlet's license at any time.

"Ofcom can take back a station's license just because it thinks program contents are over-commercialized. But it also ensures a transparent regulatory mechanism during the process," Lo said.

The public can find annual reports and statements of principles issued by the Ofcom on its official Web site. The regulator also holds public hearings and meetings to incorporate public opinion in the decision-making process.

Kuang Chung-hsiang (管中祥), another media review committee member, endorsed Ofcom for its strict yet transparent review process.

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