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Legislature gives media reform a boost

Law passed detailing how government will dispose of its holdings in local TV stations

Legislature gives media reform a boost

The law on disposing public shareholdings in terrestrial television stations cleared the Legislature yesterday, a key step in the reform drive to remove political interests from local broadcasters.

The law passed after a consensus was reached among the major parties in the Legislature, ending eight rounds of often acrimonious negotiations dating back to early November 2005.

Taiwan passed an amended Broadcasting and Television Law in December 2003 requiring the government, political parties and the military to release their holdings in terrestrial TV stations by December 26, 2005.

For that statute to be carried out, however, a supplementary statute was needed detailing how to deal with the disposal of public stakes in Chinese Television System and Taiwan Television Enterprise, Ltd. and what kind of companies they would then become.

The Legislature failed to pass the new statute by the December 26 deadline because legislative caucuses failed to reach a consensus on whether the military-affiliated Liming Foundation should relinquish its shares in CTS and whether CTS should be moved to southern Taiwan.

The move south was proposed by the Government Information Office to narrow the information gap between the northern and southern parts of the country.

These two issues remained contentious yesterday, but were dealt with in resolutions attached to the new law, rather than in the main text of the statute.

One called on the Ministry of National Defense to handle the Liming Foundation issue based on related laws, while another stipulated that lawmakers would amend the Public Television Law to require CTS to be relocated to southern Taiwan within five years.

According to the law passed yesterday, the government-owned TTV will sell all of its shares and the station will be privatized. The new statute said the shares would be sold in a public manner, with the station's employees being given priority in buying a stake in the company.

As for CTS, it will donate its shareholdings to a public TV group, which will add the network to the Public TV Service Foundation it already manages.

After the passage of the law, GIO chief Yao Wen-chih predicted that CTS should release its shares in early February while the government will need approximately three months to sell its stake in TTV, which is expected to bring the government an NT$1 billion windfall.

Yao said, however, that the government will spend nearly NT$2 billion to purchase outstanding privately-owned shares in CTS before donating them to the public TV group, meaning the reform process was likely to cost national coffers NT$1 billion.

Under the law, the Cabinet is to set up a 17-member panel to deal with the disposal of public shares within 20 days after the law takes effect.

The vice premier will convene the panel that will also include one representative from four Cabinet-level organizations: the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, the Council of Labor Affairs (勞委會), and the GIO.

Another representative will be from the non-public TV station union, with the remaining 11 members being recommended by legislative caucuses.

Choosing those 11 members was also contentious, with lawmakers deciding ultimately to attach a resolution to the law requiring that six of the members should be appointed by the Kuomintang and the People First Party legislative caucuses, which have a slight majority in the legislative body.