Amendments designed to prevent media monopolization and investors from interfering in the editorial content of broadcasting corporations were put on hold yesterday after the government made a last-minute U-turn late on Thursday night, with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers backtracking from their previously declared support for the amendments and voting them down.
At the plenary session yesterday, the third-last day before the legislature goes into recess on Tuesday, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union pressed for the amendments to clear the legislature.
The motion was voted down 59 to 44. The KMT caucus later proposed that the amendments be referred to cross-party negotiation, which means the bills could be held up for at least a month before they could be put to the vote for a second and third reading.
Had the amendments to the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法), the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法) and the Cable Television Act (有線電視法) passed the legislature yesterday, they could have hindered the acquisition of Hong Kong-based Next Media’s four outlets in Taiwan by a controversial consortium.
The offer made by the consortium, which includes pro-China Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), to Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團) owner Jimmy Lai (黎智英) has aroused much debate about growing Chinese influence on Taiwanese media and concentration of media ownership in the hands of conglomerates.
In view of the growing concern over media monopolization, the DPP drafted the amendments to establish a regulatory framework for media acquisitions and to restrict cross-sector media monopolies, with the aim of ensuring editorial independence, media professionalism and social responsibility.
At one point, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration appeared to support the DPP’s amendments when they were rushed through the legislature’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday without any revisions or objections from anyone who was present, including National Communications Commission (NCC) Chairperson Howard Shyr (石世豪).
After the amendments were sent out of the committee, the KMT caucus issued a press release saying the party would like to see the amendments clear the floor yesterday.
However, things changed late on Thursday night.
The NCC called a press conference and severely criticized the DPP’s proposed amendments. At about the same time, KMT headquarters issued a statement expressing similar views.
Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) said yesterday that Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) shared Shyr’s view that the government would prefer to spend more time drafting a well-thought-out anti-monopolization media law rather than support the DPP’s amendments, which “could have wide repercussions on the broadcasting industry.”
At the legislature yesterday, several KMT lawmakers accused KMT caucus whip Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) of “impetuous” leadership because they said the KMT should have blocked the DPP’s amendments at the committee meeting.
Wu said it was his strategy to send the DPP’s amendments out of the committee first and then block the amendments on the floor, to highlight what he said were problems with the DPP’s amendments.
Wu said the DPP had acted rashly on the amendments just to heat up its protest tomorrow.