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Authorities refuse broadcasting license to Next TV, legislators threaten stricter Internet regulations

(IPI/IFEX) - 15 December 2010 - More than a year after Taiwan-based Next Media Group requested a broadcasting license from Taiwan's National Communication Committee (NCC), the company has yet to receive permission to broadcast news programs.

Representatives of Next Media Group have informed IPI that in August 2009 the company applied for licenses for a news channel, a general interest channel, an entertainment channel, a sports channel and a movie channel. The NCC reportedly refused the request twice, eventually allowing only the sports and the movie channels to air and withholding the license for the news and the general interest channels.

The reason for the refusal, according to NCC, is that there are "concerns that the channel's broadcasts would violate the Regulations Governing the Classification of Television Programs." In its 8 September 2010 rejection of Next TV's application, the NCC stated that "doubts remain as to whether the applicant is able to fulfill the social responsibility expected of a television broadcaster." It also noted that "mass media have a responsibility to ensure that their programming conforms with ethical and moral standards acceptable to the general public."

According to news reports and talks held by IPI with media representatives in Taiwan, the issue of contention appears to be Next Media's use of realistic computer-generated animation in support of news reporting.

The NCC, along with many members of Taiwan's media community, has reportedly expressed concern over the graphic content of some of the other publications of the Next Media Group and the fact that the website of the group's newspaper, Apple Daily, shows computer-generated animations of violent crimes, sexual assaults, homicides and suicides.

Similar animations are also shown on the online news service launched by Next Media in July 2010, where Next TV streams five hours of news programming every day. This led to calls by 20 legislators (19 of them representing the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party - KMT, and one representing the Democratic Progressive Party - DPP) to impose stricter regulations for the internet. The NCC's Communication Content Department Director, Jason Ho, told the Taipei Times on 22 October that unlike content on TV or radio, the government had adopted a policy of low supervision regarding internet content.

In most democratic countries, the allocation of broadcasting licenses is carried out by statutory bodies, which need to ensure their decision-making independence from government and political or economic powers. The National Communications Commission was established by the Taiwanese government in February 2006 to regulate the telecommunications, information and broadcasting sectors. Similar commissions exist in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

A spokesperson with the British Office of Communications (Ofcom) told IPI that while Ofcom's Guidance Notes for Applicants allow for refusal of licenses if "the proposed service [is] likely to involve contraventions of the standards for programs and advertising," as included in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, this clause has never been applied. "We have never refused a license on these grounds," the spokesperson told IPI.

IPI Acting Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "NCC's pre-emptive refusal to grant Next TV a license on the basis of content that may be broadcast raises concerns about press freedom and equal access as key criteria in the allocation of licenses. We urge NCC and Next TV to engage in dialogue and to identify precisely which aspects of Next TV programming may be in breach of broadcasting content regulations so that Next TV has the possibility to selectively remove what is deemed unacceptable or apply for a license under a different rating."

She added: "IPI believes NCC should encourage diversity of television content and be open to new ways to present information." Article 1 of the 2005 NCC Organization Act, states that the NCC "was established to implement the Constitutional guarantee of free speech; ( . . . ) promote the sound development of communications; preserve the independence of the media; effectively exercise regulation on communications; ( . . . ) protect the consumers' interests and respect the rights of the disadvantaged; promote the balanced development of cultural pluralism; and increase national competitiveness."

In response to accusations of undermining freedom of expression, KMT Legislator Hsu Shao-ping defended the proposal to regulate internet-based Next TV, saying that she was simply doing her job by addressing public concerns over Next TV's internet broadcasts, which rely on controversial animations that may be unsuitable for certain audiences.

Next Media Limited, founded by Hong Kong media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, became known for introducing tabloid-style journalism to Hong Kong and is today the largest-listed media company in the Special Administrative Region of China. The Taiwan version of Next Media's Apple Daily was launched in 2003 and has since become one of the best-selling dailies in Taiwan, despite criticism of its sensational approach to news reporting.

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