Media Reform group critisizes GIO’s public radio proposal

By Jane Rickards The China Post

The Campaign for Media Reform yesterday criticized government plans for restructuring Taiwan’s airwaves, saying a proposed merger of public radio stations should be independent and the government was not making its plans transparent enough.

Their calls came after the Government Information Office announced Sunday that it planned to restructure radio frequencies into three major zones, with public radio stations occupying the highest frequencies, followed by commercial radio stations and lastly low-transmission stations, including community radio and former underground radio stations, which would be in the lower end of the frequency range.

Under the plan, the GIO will also merge specialized public radio stations such as Police Radio Station, National Education Radio and Voice of Han Broadcasting Network into one public broadcasting group. The newly-merged group will form four nationwide broadcasting services, each with different content, including one offering public information such as traffic and weather reports, one with culture programs, one offering education programs and a service offering programs for groups such as aborigines, foreign brides and foreign laborers. The reform group said the GIO had not provided enough details about the merger’s new management structure, hiring scheme and financial resources. The group also demanded the merger be run by an independent commission overseen by the Legislature and its government funding should be equal to the funding the existing public radio stations received. “It should be independent…with its funding and hiring policies managed independently,” said Kuang Chung-hsiang, convener of the pressure group and an assistant professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Shih Hsin University,

The group also argued that using the new public radio stations for services such as traffic reports and Hakka language programs was not taking the spirit of public broadcasting far enough.

Public radio in Taiwan should copy public radio stations in foreign countries, such as the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC), and produce high quality news, dramas and music programs, to let viewers escape endless commercial breaks.

“It is better if we have more public radio stations just like other countries,” said Tseng Kuo-feng, a member of a consulting committee for an educational foundation for monitoring Taiwan’s media and an assistant professor in the department of radio and television at National Chengchi University College of Communication. The GIO recently announced that underground radio stations can start applying for operation licenses around October 1. After this, the government plans to eradicate all remaining pirate radio stations by the end of 2005.

The reform group also accused the GIO of not providing the public enough information about application processes allowing underground radio stations to become legal ones, saying no one had any idea about the criteria the government was using to accept and reject applications and how the stations would be regulated once up and running.

They said they suspected the government was quickly opening up the market to more stations without a clear policy on what kind of radio was needed by the public.

“Right now if we just open them without a good policy to regulate them, there will be more trouble,” Tseng said.

“We have opened up (different frequencies) ten times in the past ten years,” he said.

Currently Taiwan has around 90 underground radio stations, many broadcasting commercials for local medicines.

Tseng said the government had offered no clear guidelines on whether these stations would be allowed to keep this content or change their programing.

The pressure group ducked questions about politics, saying they only had technical concerns about policy.

Opposition politicians have accused the government of trying to gag different points of view. They say the government is legalizing underground radio stations, which traditionally form a support base for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, while cracking down on legal radio stations, such as the Kuomintang-owned Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC), which is being forced to end its monopoly of the airwaves and return at least 13 frequencies to the government.

The KMT is pushing for the formation of an independent National Communications Commission in the Legislature to be the sole supervisory body of the telecommunications and media industries, arguing it will be better equipped to handle media matters independently than the government’s GIO.

Tseng said if the GIO could come up with a better policy, there was no need to wait for the formation of the NCC. “The point is that whether it is a good policy (or not),” he said.