Editor’s note: This is the first of several pieces we will carry on the recent ruling to reject the CTi News license renewal by Taiwan’s National Communications Commission – a decision that had made headlines at home and overseas, with claims that freedom of speech in Taiwan is under threat.
On November 24th, the National Communications Commission (NCC) voted unanimously to reject CTi New’s license renewal, and last Friday (12/11) we saw the media’s last hours of airtime on Channel 52.
Over the past few weeks, Want Want China Times Media Group, CTi New’s largest shareholder, has criticized the NCC (and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party) for clamping down on freedoms of press and speech; a view that has found widespread popularity among KMT supporters.
As discussion surrounding the issue has become increasingly politicized, it is worth examining the legal origins of the decision, and whether this decision has indeed infringed upon free press.
To begin with, the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法) provides for the legal mechanisms through which the government may regulate the press.
The Act gives the NCC authority to approve or reject channel license applications, and under the Act, channels are to apply for license renewal every six years.
Already, it is clear that freedom of the press is not to be taken absolute and without limit, at least legally.
For some, imposing regulations on the press thus seems reasonable, particularly with regards to news channels.
For good journalistic practices, protection of the diversity of opinions and promoting civic dialogue is key to democratic development, whilst bad practices do the opposite.
There are two main reasons as to why the NCC rejected CTi’s application for license renewal.
The first is content. It is no secret that CTi (and the Want Want group that backs it) is close to China, and it would indeed be unfair to CTi if this was the grounds on which the NCC made its decision (as KMT supporters like to characterize it).
But it is not.
In the past year, the NCC received 962 complaints regarding CTi’s content, and it found 25 breaches of media regulations since the news channel’s last license renewal in 2014.
Among these breaches are CTi’s broadcasting of fake news and stories from content farms, and sanctioning journalistic practices that egregiously fail to match the facts is a matter of upholding basic journalistic ethics—not an unfair limitation on opinion expression.
The second reason is editorial autonomy, and this has to do with the CTi’s institutional makeup, or its internal control mechanisms.
In 2014, when the news channel last applied for license renewal, the NCC had already demanded CTi establish a mechanism of independent reviews.
Over the past six years, this demand remains unfulfilled, and the risks posed by this lack of commitment is clear.
The NCC has found evidence of Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), the founder of Want Want Group, interfering with the journalistic practices of CTi’s editors.
Ultimately, the NCC had revealed CTi’s lack of journalistic expertise and its broken internal controls.
It is thus incorrect to damn the NCC’s decision as political persecution when CTi has so clearly disrespected the standards set out in law, which were put in place long before the DPP had come into power.
Moreover, it is also incorrect to say that the NCC had clamped down on free press and free speech.
Although CTi can no longer air its show on satellite TV (which is a limited public resource since radio waves can only carry so many channels), the media has found huge success on the internet with its Youtube channel.
CTi’s mediums have been limited, but their opinions themselves have not.
Finally, some people may doubt whether the NCC was politically motivated or retort that the pro-DPP SET News is just as bad.
But motivations cannot be verified, and, even if the NCC had been politically motivated, they had sufficient legal grounds to back their decision.
To put it bluntly, one cannot blame the NCC for CTi’s failings.
It just so happened that CTi’s license required renewal in 2020—if one is concerned with fairness, they should look out for whether the NCC applies the same license-renewal standards for SET News in 2023 (alongside TVBS and FTV News).
After all, a point is made when the nation’s news channels (regardless of political leaning) are criticized for their excessive use of dash cam and CCTV footage.
But, instead of leaving the channels to “rot equally”, it is much more productive to push them to improve with fair standards applied unbiasedly.