When the Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS, 公廣集團) was established two years ago, its mission was to provide the nation with a truly independent, non-profit public television service free from state interference.
However, the problems and conflicts of the past two years have led some to question whether the consolidation of five television stations has succeeded in creating one large independent public medium.
TBS consists of the Chinese Television Station (CTS), the Public Television Station (PTS), Hakka TV, Taiwan Indigenous Television (TiTV) and Taiwan Macroview Television, with each having different historical backgrounds and sources of funding.
PTS is supervised by the Public Television Service Foundation, whose operation is partially funded by the government while CTS was previously owned by the military. Although the Statue Regarding the Disposition of Government Shareholdings in the Terrestrial Television Industry (無線電視事業公股處理條例) dictated that political parties, the government and military withdraw from media operations, it also required one of the previously state-run TV stations to remain a public asset.
While Taiwan Television (TTV) went private, CTS became a member station of TBS.
Hakka TV and TiTV are funded by the Council of Hakka Affairs and the Indigenous Peoples Commission respectively. Each provides about NT$400 million (US$13 million) to subsidize their station. Their funding is partially appropriated by the PTS Foundation to offer program production support to both stations.
Macroview Television is in charge of TV broadcasts to overseas Taiwanese and is funded by the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission.
From the beginning, PTS and CTS management constantly argued over the style of news they should present, with the former criticizing the latter for having too much advertising in news broadcasts.
CTS, on other hand, has always been a commercial television station, but it is now commissioned to function as a public service. As such, CTS has had to forgo some sources of commercial revenue, such as running campaign ads for political parties.
While PBS receives annual funding of NT$900 million from the Government Information Office, CTS receives no subsidies.
Its status as a public medium also restricts the types of program CTS can produce. Shrinking ratings and advertising worsened its situation and the station had accumulated losses of NT$1 billion even before it became a public service broadcaster.
Neither Hakka TV or TiTV have benefited much from the consolidation. Both continued to outsource a majority of their production to private contractors or other TV stations. The PTS Foundation merely placed some of their production crews under the management of both stations.
Lawmakers are not satisfied with the operation of TBS. In a legislative meeting last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) described TBS as a “bottomless money pit.”
She suggested selling CTS to an interested private investor as TBS simply cannot afford to bear CTS’ financial losses year after year.
Wei Ti (魏玓), an assistant professor of communications and technology at National Chiao Tung University, disagreed.
He said investment in the public television system was small compared with other countries.
Wei said on average, the annual amount invested in public television is NT$389 per person in South Korea and NT$3,376 in Britain. In Taiwan, the amount is just NT$39 per person, he said.