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KMT ready to grab Taiwan Public TV

KMT ready to grab Taiwan Public TV

The approval by the Legislative Yuan of revisions to the Public Television Law last Friday marked the beginning of the final takeover of the public Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) network by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), which enjoys a three-fourths legislative majority.
Not surprisingly, the KMT caucus overcame resistance by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers by a 53-24 vote and rammed through a simple revision in Article 13 which boosts the size of the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation (PTS) board of directors by four seats from the existing 13 to 15 to a range of 17 to 21.
Thanks to the move, the KMT is now in a position to definitively stack the PTS board and wrest control over the TBS, which includes the world's first Hakka and Indigenous Peoples' television networks, from its current management team of professional journalists.
The latest campaign to impose KMT party control over Taiwan's public broadcasting media follows the reassertion of KMT control last fall over state-owned but organizationally autonomous media including the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International.
The language of the revision of course does not state this intention so badly and instead claims an intention to input greater "balance" into the board's membership.
But the record of the KMT legislative majority's previous actions toward both PTS and the TBS network tells a different story.
Besides illegally freezing half of the foundation's budget for the past three years, the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan similarly expanded PTS board of directors and supervisors by four seats last October and promptly appointed four KMT legislators to fill the seats, which were supposed to have been reserved for "impartial and upright social personages."
Indeed, Friday's second-wave expansion was necessary because the KMT's previous assault failed by one vote to secure complete control over the foundation.
However, after President Ma Ying-jeou promulgates the revised version of Article 13, KMT Premier Liu Chao-hsiuan will be able to nominate replacements for up to eight seats, including the new slots and replacements for resigned directors.
Since the KMT already controls five seats, its direct or indirect control of the additional eight positions will give the ruling party a two-thirds majority on the PTS board, a situation which will almost certainly seal the fate of the current management team of PTF Board Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and President Feng Hsien-hsien.
Cheng and Feng, are cordially detested by the KMT camp for their political independence even though the quality of the news and other programming and the ratings of the TPBS stations have improved markedly under their stewardship. Moreover, budgetary and management control over the Chinese Television Service (CTS), one of the original three terrestrial television stations controlled for decades by the KMT until media reform led to the station's incorporation in the public network a few years ago, will again revert back to the restored ruling party.
Not surprisingly, Friday's power play promptly sparked protests by media reform groups.
In a joint statement issued June 12, Taiwan Media Watch and the Campaign for Media Reform expressed "regret" over the Legislature's move and declared that "it would be difficult to blame outside observers for being suspicious that the KMT intends to grab control over the board of directors."
The two groups appealed to the KMT government to ensure that the selection process is "fair, just and open," but such hopes are surely destined to be dashed.
After all, since regaining power, the KMT's stance toward TBS has quite simply been to "cut its rations, cut its throat and change its brain" as part of the "former authoritarian" party's drive to reverse nearly two decades of media reform efforts that, temporarily, ended KMT control over terrestrial television and broadcast media less than a decade ago.
The "recovery" of the China Television Service and the conquest and muzzling of the Taiwan Public Broadcasting Service will inevitably boost the "party loyalty" and self-censorship in these media and inevitably undermine the autonomy, vitality, quality and competitiveness of our public media.
In a tragic irony, this takeover is occurring just at a time when the development of digital media has dramatically expanded the potential scope for diversity and creativity and when many democratic countries are now bolstering guarantees for editorially independent and public service news media and expanding citizen access to public airwaves.
Friday's action shows that the prospects for the emergence of a such a vibrant and genuinely public media, while uncertain under the previous Democratic Progressive Party government, are now virtually non-existent.
Instead, as a "senior presidential official" recently declared with relation to the imminent "recovery" of the prestigeous Taiwan Democracy Foundation, the KMT camp instinctively treats public funds and resources as belonging to the "government" and not available for anyone who might "attack the government."
In the light of these trends, can observers be blamed for doubting whether the KMT is indeed rebuilding a new authoritarian system?