Ministry calls off plan to have PTS handle planned video platform

Culture Minister Lee Yung-te (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) —The Ministry of Culture (MOC) on Wednesday withdrew its controversial plan to commission the Public Television Service (PTS) to set up an international video programming platform but emphasized the “direction of the policy” will not change.

The PTS’s board of directors approved a preparatory plan for the “International Video Platform” initiated by the MOC by an 11-4 vote on Monday, but the move caused the resignation of three top PTS executives and angered certain members of the board.

In a statement released Wednesday, the MOC said it decided to call off the plan to have the PTS handle the project to prevent the disputes triggered by the plan from growing further, according to the statement.

Despite the decision, however, the MOC vowed to “maintain the course of promoting the policy” because the international video platform has been “very highly anticipated and drawn widespread attention,” the statement said.

Prior to the board vote, the project was criticized by some board members and media outlets as potentially requiring an independent public broadcaster like PTS to broadcast government “propaganda” to English-language viewers.

There were also procedural concerns with the board vote itself. The board had not received a complete report on the MOC project and had therefore not been able to discuss it thoroughly before Monday’s vote, yet the preparatory plan was still given the green light.

The three PTS executives who resigned apparently did so because of this procedural issue.

Feng Hsiao-fei (馮小非), one of the four board members who voted against the plan, said the board was not presented with detailed information on a project in which the MOC planned to invest NT$5.8 billion (US$198 million) over a four-year period.

On such a big issue, “discussions should be held with the board first,” Feng protested, speculating that “influence from outside” had intervened in PTS’ affairs.

After the MOC’s move Wednesday, however, board member Karen Hsu (徐瑞希), who voted in favor of the preparatory plan, was angry that the ministry reversed course and resigned from the board.

Hsu blasted the MOC for not respecting the decision made by the PTS board. The ministry’s U-turn after saying it would respect the board’s decision amounted to “trampling on the PTS’ dignity,” she said.

Asked about the decision to “terminate” the PTS deal, Culture Minister Lee Yung-te (李永得) told CNA that it was made “to avoid harming the PTS,” judging from the disputes over the issue in recent days.

The MOC said in its statement that it would continue to seek out opinions from different circles of society on the best way to set up the platform.

On July 21, Lee announced the plan to allocate NT$1 billion a year for four years to PTS to create and operate the video platform. The total fund of NT$4 billion over the four-year period was then increased before the board vote to NT$5.8 billion.

The planned “International Video Platform” was aimed at providing original videos and programs in English on themes related to Taiwan and post them on the online platform, Lee said, and the idea was to have the PTS produce the content.

In June, PTS applied for subsidies from MOC to prepare for the platform with the hope of launching it in January 2021.