The National Communications Commission (NCC) recently revoked the broadcasting license of ERA TV’s Variety channel (年代綜合台), saying it was guilty of not clearly distinguishing between regular program content and commercials. The commission also fined the channel NT$2.1 million (US$70,000).
This is the first instance of a satellite TV channel in Taiwan having its license revoked by a supervisory body, and as such is highly significant. That the NCC has been courageous enough to carry out its duty here is certainly commendable, and maybe now broadcasting channels will do more to curb their excesses. However, the NCC should perhaps have suspended the license for between three days and three months instead, in line with Article 37 of the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法). Revoking the license is the maximum penalty applicable, and not necessarily appropriate. The lesser penalty would have avoided claims that the commission was restricting freedom of expression.
Second, the company management should take full responsibility. Why punish the employees, who were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, and yet who now find their jobs in jeopardy? As such, the management should be responsible for ensuring staff are employed elsewhere within the ERA TV organization.
Third, the NCC should not just try to root out the small fry when there are many more glaring examples of offenders. Other channels, and especially news channels, are guilty of more serious examples of embedded marketing in programming. The problem is serious enough for the public to have lost trust in the news media. There has been a blurring of the lines between the government and the media, obscuring the news broadcast media’s responsibility to report news to the public. The NCC should apply equal standards across the industry and replace news channels that continue to be part of the problem and fail to live up to their social responsibility.
Revoking the license is just one weapon supervisors have at their command, and purely punitive in nature. If the NCC really wants to improve the overall media environment, it should also use incentives, encouraging the introduction of quality channels into the industry and actively promote competition within the cable TV and multimedia on demand framework. This is how it can best breathe new life into a stagnant TV industry.
Finally, now that the ERA TV variety channel has had its license revoked, it is likely that other channels, for a short time at least, will curb their use of embedded marketing, although this move will not necessarily lead to any major structural changes in the overall TV environment.
Many broadcasters find it difficult to survive or develop if they do not allow the embedding of marketing in their programs. The government and NCC need to have a more positive broadcast media policy that will help improve this situation and inject resources into the development of digital convergence. This will open up the media and promote freedom of speech in the media, while allowing broadcasters to raise their heads high. Jobs will be also be more secure.
Another positive and systematic measure the government should consider is the establishment of a “news promotion fund” and a “movie and TV promotion fund” to encourage the production and circulation of quality programs with local content. This is the only way we will improve the quality of broadcasting in this country.
Lo Shih-hung is an associate professor and director of the Department of Communications at National Chung Cheng University.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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