There is a fine line between supervising and controlling the media, and with the National Communications Commission (NCC) losing credibility, the government needs to be careful about where it stands.
Even as the government welcomed news that BBC correspondent John Sudworth had relocated from China to Taiwan and hailed Taiwan’s freedom of the press, the commission sparked criticism after it approved a move to channel 52 for Chinese Television System’s (CTS) News and Info channel.
NCC Chairman Chen Yaw-shyang (陳耀祥) has been accused of bias after a hearing last year at which he urged operators to give Taiwan Broadcasting System — the nation’s public broadcasting group that includes CTS — a shot at the channel, despite CTS’ long history of deficits and poor ratings.
CTS pledged to increase its number of news department employees from 160 to 400, and to be profitable within three years, promises that have drawn skepticism.
The channel 52 saga has added fuel to the debate over whether the commission is capable of maintaining an independent stance when its members, including its chairperson, are named by the Executive Yuan and approved by the legislature.
Citing documents leaked from the Presidential Office in May last year, the pan-blue camp accused the commission of doing the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) bidding after the NCC in November last year refused to renew CTi News’ license for channel 52. The DPP government is trying to wipe CTi News from the map, critics have said, although the pan-green camp has said that the channel got what it deserved after repeated breaches of broadcasting rules.
The Chinese-language Apple Daily has printed opinion articles promoting both sides of the argument. In its editorial on Nov. 19 last year, the newspaper expressed “regret” over the commission vetoing CTi News’ license renewal, saying that it dealt a blow to Taiwan’s image of having a free press and diverse opinions.
“We absolutely do not agree with the Want Want China Times Group’s pro-China stance, and we do not think its media have performed well in journalism and self-regulation,” the editorial read. “However, these problems should be arbitrated by the [free] market and civic power [of readers]. If the NCC has made its decision, it should apply the same standards to other TV stations.”
If the commission is allowed to decide a media firm’s destiny based on political considerations, “a monster has escaped from Pandora’s box,” it said.
In a similar situation, the NCC approving CTS’ switch to channel 52 provoked questions about its integrity, especially as there seem to be other candidates that would have been better choices.
It might even be reasonable to assume that CTS was forced to switch to the channel to give the government control over more news on TV. Such speculation is not entirely ungrounded given that the commission rejected proposals that foreign-language news channels CNN or France 24 take the slot, even as the government seeks to improve Taiwan’s internationalization and create a bilingual nation by 2030.
The situation provokes suspicion that the government’s plans to establish an international video-sharing platform and a digital development ministry are maneuvers to expand its domination of media communications, especially as the proposed ministry would take over some of the commission’s duties.
Many DPP members were at the forefront of work to achieve freedom of the press, including by pushing political parties, the government and the military away from mass media. These ideals were also among the reasons for the establishment of the NCC.
However, today’s DPP seems to have strayed far from those standards and needs to watch that it does not become the leviathan it once revolted against.
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