The Council of Agriculture (COA) has come under fire over its recent policy of asking its civil servants to keep tabs on media commentaries about its policies.
According to staff at the council’s Agriculture and Food Agency, the agency recently passed a notice to division chiefs in the production, storage and transport units as well as to agency branches across the nation to take turns monitoring political commentary shows starting this month and running to December.
The agency has asked staff to watch the news channels for two hours on weekday work shifts from 6pm to 12am and for three hours on vacation days from 11am to midnight, the staff said.
New regulations stipulate that agency staff who watch the channels may receive a bonus or additional vacation days, with funds paid out of the agricultural development fund or other administrative expenses, they said.
However, bonuses are not given to those who come across negative or important information, but fail to report it to the council’s Public Relations Division, they added.
Staff said people who last month had to monitor TVBS’ business channel — which usually runs until 11pm — are slated to be rotated this month to watching politically relevant programs on the ERA-News channel, which runs later into the night.
“The latest we had to stay up in June was 11pm, but in July we have to stay up until midnight,” said a staff member who wished to remain anonymous, adding that some officials within the agency who did not have to keep tabs on the media were now compelled to watch as well.
“People who don’t have cable TV at home, but are scheduled to keep tabs on TV programs have to go to relatives’ or friends’ houses or stay in the office just to watch the shows — it is unreasonable,” some staffers said, adding that their relatives should not be bothered by office policies.
Taiwan Rural Front spokesperson Tsai Hui-pei (蔡培慧) said the policy was “ridiculous.”
“Does the government have no confidence in its own policies? Why is it that civil servants have to shoulder the incompetence of their administrative officials?” Tsai said.
“If the government wanted to stop all the criticism, it should look at itself and do what it is supposed to instead of trying to control the damage,” she added.
It is one thing if the council and agency were simply trying to see what the media said about their policies and see where they went wrong, but interrupting civil servants’ normal working hours just to keep tabs on who is criticizing them is simply getting their priorities wrong, Tsai added.
However, agency director Li Tsang-lang (李蒼郎) said that as an organization of policy execution, it was the council’s and its agency’s job to take note of comments from all sources and see if there is anything that can be improved.
“If everyone had to take note of media commentaries by themselves it would be too heavy a burden, that’s why we’re working together to try to ease the pressure,” Li said, adding that the council and agency respect the media’s comments and would follow up on good suggestions.
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer