Tue, Oct 10, 2017 Taipei Times
Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) has said that she intends to update the Public Television Act (公共電視法) to make it a “Public Media Act” with a wider scope.
Putting aside whether her vision is achievable, it is worth waiting to see whether she is able to formulate a blueprint that provides a solution to the argument over which is better — small and beautiful or big and powerful — that for so long has dominated the public broadcasting debate.
Every year since its establishment in 1998, the Public Television Service’s (PTS) annual budget has remained frozen at a meager NT$900 million (US$29.63 million).
It might seem prudent to limit expenditure based on the ideal of maintaining a lean and efficient service, but, as the saying goes, even the cleverest chef cannot cook without rice.
Put another way, “small is beautiful” can in reality mean weak and not very beautiful at all.
Compared with the UK’s BBC and Japan’s NHK, which both receive more than NT$200 billion annually, PTS’ NT$900 million pales into insignificance.
What about South Korea, which has a population twice the size of Taiwan? Its public broadcaster, KBS, has an annual budget of more than NT$40 billion — 48 times more than PTS’ budget.
This means that KBS was able to spend NT$50 million per episode on its historical fantasy TV drama The Legend, while PTS could only spend NT$6 million per episode for its period drama A Touch of Green (一把青) and had to drum up private sponsorships.
Most nations place a strong emphasis on so-called soft power. If Taiwan were to pursue a policy of expanding its public broadcasting output, it would not only enrich the domestic cultural scene, but also help promote Taiwan to the world.
The achieve this, the nation could first, increase the production budgets for television programs; second, enhance its media platforms to achieve operational synergies; and third, elevate the public service and cultural duties of public broadcasters.
The reason that size equals strength for a public media organization is simple: The global media industry is in a war of attrition. This is especially true for televisual media, for which a shortage of manpower or capital can be fatal.
The government should put its full weight behind the development of public media and increase budgets to improve their strength and enable them to do more.
This is also an age of group warfare. The nation’s private media companies all provide a full range of platforms, but public broadcasters, although they like to refer to themselves as broadcasting corporations, consist of only three channels: PTS, CTS and Hakka TV, and no radio stations.
The public broadcasters need to expand their scope, provide content across the full spectrum of platforms and build operational synergies to expand.
To increase the footprint of public broadcasting, it is essential that broadcasters operate on more platforms.
In line with Cheng’s statements, the Central News Agency (CNA) and Radio Taiwan International (RTI) should be merged into a corporation that includes television, radio and news.
By drawing upon the strengths of CNA, the new broadcaster would be able to provide a wider perspective to its international news coverage, rather than simply acting as a conduit for powerful global news organizations, whose coverage is often littered with bias.
Additionally, if CNA were able to expand its international coverage to include televisual media, PTS would be able to produce international reports tailored to a Taiwanese audience and no longer have to rely on reports by international news agencies.
Furthermore, if RTI were incorporated into the new broadcaster, it could share the responsibility of providing pro-Taiwan international news with the Overseas Community Affairs Council, which runs the Taiwan Macroview TV channel — something the council has long hoped to achieve.
Merging Taiwan Macroview TV with PTS to produce programs on Taiwanese culture that are broadcast worldwide provides a huge opportunity.
Additionally, why is it that educational programs and traffic reports, which are broadcast by separate state-run radio stations, cannot by provided through public broadcasting? This is a complex issue that requires lengthy consideration.
Lastly, the nation’s various ethnic-minority media should all be provided through public broadcasting.
It is probably too late to turn back the clock with Aboriginal community media, but Hakka media could still be incorporated into a new public broadcaster.
Taiwanese-language TV stations should also all sit under the umbrella of public broadcasting.
It is a constant source of amazement that such a tiny nation has such a huge number of publicly funded media organizations — does it really need so many?
The operating models of the nation’s multifarious public broadcasters are unsustainable. Imagine if they were to be amalgamated into one large and powerful broadcaster tasked with providing a wide output across a variety of platforms, perhaps including a print media division.
Each area of its operations would be tasked with its own mission statement, while the synergies created through amalgamating the fragmented public broadcast media would save considerable public funds — what is not to like?
The history of PTS’ evolution teaches that amending the Public Television Act will be fraught with difficultly, but the fact that Cheng has the political courage to propose a “Public Media Act” is heartening.
Good luck; you will need it.
Chen Ping-hung is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communication.
Translated by Edward Jones