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Cablegate: Taiwan's Review of Cable Tv Station Sparks

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

102257Z Aug 05





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: Taiwan's Government Information Office (GIO)
announced July 13 that the operating licenses of 21 of 70
cable TV channels whose broadcasting licenses were up for
renewal had failed to pass the initial review process. On
July 31, the GIO announced that it would not renew the
licenses - and thus was effectively shutting down as of
August 1 -- one TV news channel and six movie/variety
channels. The GIO's move has generated much controversy.
Many question whether the GIO has the authority to close
down media, with some going so far as to question whether
any democratic government should have any role in regulating
the media. Others find fodder for a new "government
conspiracy" theory in the matter. END SUMMARY.

2. According to Taiwan's Satellite Broadcasting Law (1999),
each television channel must renew its broadcasting license
every six years; this July marked the first time 3channels
had to renew their licenses since the law went into effect.
Taiwan's Government Information Office (GIO) announced July
13 that the operating licenses of 21 of the 70 cable TV
channels whose licenses were up for renewal had failed to
pass the initial review process administered by a committee
of 12 members set up by the Department of Broadcasting
Affairs under the GIO. On July 31, the GIO made a follow-up
announcement that it would not renew the licenses - and thus
was effectively shutting down as of August 1 -- ETTV-S News
Channel, Long Shong Movie Channel, Rainbow "Adult" TV
Channel, CASA Financial Information Channel, Wall Street
Finance Channel, Peng Lai Hsian Shan Variety Channel (a
mixture of religious programming during the day and "adult"
programming at night), and Ou Peng Satellite TV Variety
Channel (with a similarly anomalous mix). In a press
release the committee said the channels had violated the
Child and Juvenile Welfare Law, Sexual Assault Prevention
Law, Food Sanitation and Management Law, and Satellite
Broadcasting Law. Reportedly 1,000 people could lose their
jobs due to the abrupt shutdown of their companies.

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3. In the days immediately following the GIO decision, the
pan-Blue-inclined newspapers roundly condemned the move on
their editorial pages. The "China Evening Post" ran an
editorial that urged readers to "remember this day" when
"news freedom was taken prisoner" in Taiwan, thus marking
"the beginning of fascism and dictatorship." Since the GIO
is the spokesman of the government, it should not have the
authority to close any station, the editorial maintained;
the future media regulatory agency - the National
Communications Commission (NCC) -- should be responsible for
deciding upon such closures. The similarly Blue "United
Evening News" also ran an editorial that stated that
"everyone agrees Taiwan's media is intolerably chaotic," but
"the question is, who should reform it?" In a democratic
society, the media should supervise the government, the
editorial continued, and suggested it would be a topsy-turvy
world, would it not, "if the government can turn around and
determine the fate of the media?"

4. Pan-Green-aligned newspapers applauded the GIO in
editorials for attempting to rein in Taiwan's chaotic media.
"The Liberty Times" ran an editorial stating that the Taiwan
public is "pleased by the GIO's actions." The "Taipei
Times" published an editorial stating that media outlets
have failed to practice self-discipline, and existing laws
give the GIO the authority to revoke licenses. Therefore,
the GIO move justifiably "signaled a warning from the
government to Taiwan's media circles." The "Taiwan Daily"
noted that when the media continues to be in chaos, why
shouldn't the GIO exercise its legal powers?

5. The "Taiwan Daily" editorial hit upon the crux of the
matter -- did the GIO have the right to do what it did? Or,
in fact, did the democratic government of Taiwan in general
have such a right? A TV reporter at ERA TV, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity, told AIT/PAS: "[O]riginally the
media is supposed to monitor the government, but how come
now it is the government monitoring the media? The roles
have been switched and this is not normal." A light-green
reporter for "The Liberty Times," Lee Ming-hsien, said his
first reaction to the news was: "The government's
maneuvering (of media) is too crude." May Chen, a senior
manager at TVBS, like many media executives, questioned the
way the GIO handled the licensing review: "It was too
shoddy and too hasty."

6. The question of timing of the decision and its immediate
application does stand out, especially with the prospect of
1,000 people losing their jobs overnight. If the GIO's
intention was to send a message to rein in Taiwan's wilder
media outlets -- as "The United Daily News" said, "killing
one (station) to warn a hundred" - why did the process have
to move so quickly? Although not reflected clearly on local
op-ed pages, many media people have found in this unusual
speed the makings of a conspiracy theory, at least as
regards the closing of the one TV news station, ETTV-S.

7. GTV political-beat reporter (KMT/light-Blue supporter)
Tsai Meng-yu told AIT/PAS his first reaction upon hearing

about the non-renewal of ETTV-S broadcast license was:
"It's all about Fubon." Rumors abound in local media
circles about the government's intention to replace one Blue-
friendly station with a new news channel owned by the pro-
Green Fubon Group. In fact, some have claimed that the
Fubon Group sent in an application for a news channel July
29, right before the GIO-convened review committee made its
final decision on the channel licenses. "Liberty Times"
political-beat reporter Lee Ming-hsien told AIT/PAS that he
was also inclined to reckon that Fubon's application might
have played a role in the license revocation.

8. Besides the allegedly close timing between Fubon's
application for a broadcast license and the denial of the
ETTV-S license, one of the reasons the "Fubon conspiracy
theory" has some traction is that one of the 12 license
review committee members, Kuan Chung-hsiang, has been
connected with with Fubon. Kuan is an assistant professor
at Shih Hsin University Graduate Institute for Radio,
Television and Film. Kuan is also, however, the chairman of
the Media Watch Foundation. Fubon has long provided
financial sponsorship to the Media Watch Foundation, whose
office is actually inside the Fubon Financial building in
Taipei. AIT/PAS could not determine whether Fubon is
currently subsidizing the foundation's rent for this office
to any extent.

9. Another "Liberty Times" reporter, Chen Yu-ting - who
considers herself non-partisan, and covers the social-issues
beat -- told AIT/PAS that several reporters were concerned
enough about the possible conflict of interest facing Kuan
that they spoke to him about his role on the GIO review
committee. According to Chen, Kuan responded by saying that
Fubon did, indeed, sponsor the foundation a few years ago,
but no longer does so. In addition, Kuan said he had only
took over the Foundation's chairmanship this year, implying
that he was not influenced by Fubon's past generosity.

10. May Chen from TVBS did not have any direct opinion for
AIT/PAS about the "Fubon conspiracy." She did, however,
dismiss speculation that the GIO deliberately chose to close
down ETTV-S because the cable TV station was regarded as a
pan-Blue media outlet. She said Gary Wang, chairman of
Eastern Multimedia Group and a former KMT-legislator, has
expanded his business empire partly by maintaining good
relationships with the DPP government and pro-Green
politicians. For instance, ETTV-S has broadcast several DPP
campaign rallies, and aired talk shows led by pro-Green
hosts. If the GIO had wanted to close down a Blue news
channel, there are many other, "Bluer" choices.

11. "We knew beforehand that at least one of us would be
punished," said Chen, whose TVBS was one of the seven cable
news channels that failed the preliminary GIO review. ETTV-
S became an obvious "target," she said, because it carried
the controversial crime show hosted by Taipei City Councilor
Wang Yu-cheng that specialized in passing off
"dramatizations" as real news footage. The fact that EMG
has become a "super player" in Taiwan's cable TV industry,
running 12 cable channels (including ETTV-S) and doubling as
a cable system operator, Chen said, also made it more
vulnerable to scrutiny by the review committee.

12. (SBU) Comment: Opinions in Taiwan about the GIO's
motivations cover the spectrum from conspiratorial to
clumsy. Regardless, everyone inclined to criticize the
government has take one clear message: Criticize at your
peril. Whether warranted or not, that risks reducing the
willingness of media outlets to speak their mind.

© Scoop Media

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