KMT trumps Taiwan public television
Taiwan News
Page 6
2010-01-07 12:00 AM
President Ma Ying-jeou's ruling right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government appears to have finally succeeded in its drive to take control over the Taiwan's Public Television Service Foundation (PTSF), which manages the Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS) on behalf of our nation's citizens.

On Monday, a new stacked board of PTSF directors, which are legally mandated to manage the Taiwan Public Television Service (TPS) on behalf of our nation's citizens in the public interest, will elect a new chairman subservient to the restored "formerly authoritarian" ruling party after abrogating the three-year contract of the incumbent a year in advance.

Ordinarily, a management team is changed before their contracted term only in cases of malfeasance or abject failure.

But the team of PBSF Chairman Cheng Tung-liao and Sylvia Feng Hsien-hsien have not been accused of any malfeasance during the first two years of their legally mandated three year term but are undoubtedly "guilty" of sharply expanding the viewership and influence of the public television network while cutting costs and improving program quality and deserve the right to fulfill their contracts.

Some indicators of the improved PTS performance include a 30 percent jump in viewship last year and its rise in cable television viewership rankings from 40th in 2007 to 35 in 2008 and to 25th during the first 11 months of 2009; the rise in the number of citizens with "active contact" with PTS call-in broadcasts or other activities from nearly 291,000 in 2007 to over 392,200 during the first 11 months of 2009, and the increase in the average number of persons actively visiting the PTS website each month from 843,000 in 2007 to nearly 1.2 million in the first 11 months of 2009.

Finally, besides winning numerous domestic and international awards for its programming, PTS ranked second in average viewer satisfaction among all major TV channels, with 80.26 percent satisfaction rating during the July - September 2009.

Given the steady improvement in viewership and program quality, the unseemly haste of this "unfriendly takeover" hints that the "crime" of Cheng and Feng has been their success in expanding the influence of an independent and autonomous public media voice just as the KMT is trying to muzzle critical, "unfavorable" or even objective content in state-owned but legally independent media such as the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International.

Indeed, numerous KMT lawmakers have publically complained about the content of PTS current affairs or discussion programs, which are generally quite fair, and have expressed exasperation with the concept that public television cannot be controlled by the ruling party even though it is financed largely through funds that require formal legislative allocation.

The KMT's upcoming success took over a year and a half of efforts, including three revisions to the Public Television Organization Law to expand the size of the board for stacking by KMT lawmakers and other sycophants, that were frustrated by factors such as the lack of credibility in removing a successful management team and Ma's eroding public confidence.

Nevertheless, Monday's election will take place under a cloud of possible illegality as the eight new directors which supplied the votes to dump Cheng in a heated board meeting December 28 were chosen by the Government Information Office in a clearly flawed process that was hit with an official "correction" by the Control Yuan December 10 in response to a petition by a civic campaign to "save public television."

Restoring control

The new board, now was stacked with a pro-KMT majority, and the GIO ignored the Control Yuan and voted December 28 to fire Cheng and elect a new chairman January 11.

The pro-KMT PTSF board seems now set to hold a re-election Monday despite a December 30 resolution by the foundation's three supervisors who declared the resolution to fire Cheng "invalid" and called on it to delay the election of a new chairman until the status of the eight most recent appointees was corrected in line with the Control Yuan's order.

With the ouster of the PTSF chairman and its feisty general manager, the KMT dominated board will be able to take control over the entire Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS), which includes Public Television Service (PBS), the affiliated Hakka Television, Taiwan Indigenous Television and Taiwan Macroview Television as well as the giant China Television Service.

The biggest prize will be CTS, which is one of Taiwan's four wireless television networks and was directly controlled by the KMT during the decades of authoritarian rule through its ownership by the Ministry of National defense.

By taking over both PTS and regaining direct control over CTS, the ruling party stands to reverse the main achievement of the media reform movement, namely the removal of KMT direct control over the broadcast media.

The bottom line is that the KMT has used its restored one - party domination to reverse the fruits of a decade of democratic media reforms to carry out an emasculation of Taiwan's public television that will only further undermine its waning support in Taiwan civil society.

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