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Government urged to respect public media's independence

Government urged to respect public media’s independence

Published on Friday 1 October 2010.
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Reporters Without Borders is disturbed by Sylvia Feng’s ouster as president of Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS) and reminds the government of its undertakings to respect the state-owned media’s independence.

The PTS board voted to bring Feng’s term of office to an early end on 19 September under article 26 of the Public Television Act. Her deputy, Chung Yu-yuan, was also suspended. Feng’s replacement, Chen Sheng Fu, said her departure was necessary because of recurring disputes between part of the board, PTS employees and the government over proposed reforms.

Reporters Without Borders believes that a democratic government should take pride in defending the state-owned media’s independence. Protecting their independence is essential in order to guarantee a really democratic political system, one that allows all political parties and all sectors of society to make their voices heard.

A government that respects the rules of democracy gets its strength from guaranteeing the editorial freedom of the public radio and TV stations, thereby accepting that it will sometimes be criticised by state-sector journalists. Many governments in democratic countries are tempted to put their supporters in charge of the public media in order to influence news content, as we have recently seen in France, Italy and South Korea.

But this temptation is contrary to the spirit of fairness and to the need for a fourth estate that offers independent news coverage. After all, the state-owned media are a public service that is paid for by the taxpayer. They are not the media mouthpieces of the president or ruling party. They are media that are there to serve the public.

It is disturbing to see the power struggle at the head of PTS being won by the supporters of the ruling Kuomintang party. So far there is no evidence that the change in leadership is affecting PTS’s news coverage but we will be watching very carefully for signs that it is.

We urge President Ma Ying-jeou to ensure that PTS’s editorial independence continues to be guaranteed. After Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about this issue in 2008, the authorities assured us that the independence of the state-owned media was a priority for them.

At a news conference on 28 September in Taipei, Feng described her dismissal as illegal and voiced concern about the current government’s growing influence over the media. She also accused the Government Information Office (GIO) of interfering in coverage of certain events.

In response to a request to the Taiwanese authorities for an explanation, Reporters Without Borders received a written reply from the GIO. This is an extract:

“The Government Information Office states that the spirit of the Public Television Act is to protect the neutrality and objectivity of the media, and that the purpose of its provisions is to reduce government intervention to the minimum by respecting the independence of its board. Respecting the principles of the Public Television Act, the GIO never strayed from its position of respect for its spirit of independence and autonomy. It never intervened in matters of personnel, programme choice or programme content. Ms. Feng’s statements are at variance with reality.”

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