2007年6月5日 星期二

Consumers' rights must be protected by the GIO

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

Thursday, Jan 11, 2001 Taipei Times

The controversy over amendment of the Cable Television Law (有線電視法) is intensifying. Currently, discussions are focused on cable subscription fees and the sharp exchanges between the local and central governments. However, it is important to stress that talk about the legal amendment should be based on an understanding of the"media nature" of cable television. If all agree that mass communications media are the cornerstone of political democracy and are thus distinct from all other industries, an analysis of the question of whether to entrust the management of cable television media to the hands of conglomerates and foreign capital, or the hands of the central government, should produce an answer to the current dispute.

Some may believe that the removal of Article 19 of the Cable Television Law, under which the ownership of cable company stock must be spread out, will facilitate a better business environment for cable operators. This is a matter for public debate, however. Unfortunately, the Legislative Yuan virtually "smuggled" through the amendment that removed the article.

The issue of who should be authorized by Article 51 to review subscription fees should also be analyzed from the point of view of the media nature of cable television. If we all agree that cable television should promote community awareness, and local culture, then who should manage the cable television industry is pretty obvious. Perhaps some think that as Taiwan is a small island, governance of which is affected by the presence of numerous local factions, placing management power within the hands of local governments would only strengthen local factions.

As the legislature has already approved the amendment, unless the Executive Yuan successfully has it overturned by requesting a legislative review, we can only hope that the Government Information Office (GIO) has the determination to enforce the law. The GIO should work on the following three areas:

First, truly implement Article 21's anti-monopolization clause by adopting measures to verify the subscription information of the cable operators.

Second, demand that the cable operators make public all their financial data and conduct effective financial audits of the cable operators.

Third, draft several fee proposals and authorize local governments to make the final decision in accordance with individual situations.

In sum, mass communications media are different from other industries. In drafting relevant regulatory policies, the government must consider the nature and the role of media. Just think, even media boss Rupert Murdoch had to relinquish his Australian citizenship and become a naturalized US citizen before acquiring the American TV network, Fox. How can Taiwan easily lift regulations on foreign investment in local cable televisions?

If we all agree that the interference of political, military, and political party interests in the cable TV industry has had a serious impact on the democratic development of Taiwan, then how can we allow business interests represented by the conglomerates to monopolize the cable TV industry?

In the past, the GIO failed to regulate matters it should have regulated and competed for the power to regulate matters in which it should not have meddled.

After the recent legal amendment, while I continue to feel pessimistic about the ability and determination of the GIO to protect consumers' rights and enforce the law, the GIO is our last hope now that the amendment has officially become law.

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