The NCC: The Non-Constitutional Commission

One of the little political soap-operas that’s been going on in Taiwan is the battle over who should run the national media watchdog. Up until the end of last year, this job was handled by the GIO (Government Information Office), but it has now been passed over to the NCC (National Communication Commission). Unfortunately, we now find out that the NCC is unconstitutional:

The Council of Grand Justices yesterday declared clauses of the regulation that determines the makeup of the National Communication Commission unconstitutional on grounds that they deprive the Cabinet of personnel appointment power protected by the Constitution.The Cabinet, which asked the council in January this year to rule on the legality of the NCC organic law, hailed the decision and called on NCC members to quit on their own to end the constitutional mess.

There are two problems here: a constitutional problem and a practical problem

The Constitutional problem

The NCC is an independent body which runs under the Executive Yuan. Unfortunately, the laws which have been ruled on state that the members of the NCC should be recommended by political parties in approximate proportion to the number of seats they hold in the Legislature (the selection panel is also selected in this way). So according to the ruling, the Legislature is impinging on the authority of the Executive – which is a constitutional no-no.

Is this a fair ruling? As I’m not a legal expert, all I can say is that it seems to be. It’s clear that the legislature should have no say in such a body, and the counter-argument (that they don’t, and that the proportions of the parties is just a way of guaranteeing impartiality) seems pretty weak. Of course, all the pan-Blues are busy criticizing the ruling – but none of them have come out with a good argument against it. The prize for most stupid comment goes to PFP spokesman Hsieh Kung-ping who criticized the ruling and said that it ‘should respect public opinion on the issue’. Who needs a constitution when you’ve got a dodgy opinion pollster, eh?

The practical problem

The reason for this mess, is that Taiwan’s political atmosphere makes it virtually impossible to nominate an impartial set of experts on any politically sensitive topic. When the media watchdog job was handled by the GIO, we had the famously idiotic Pasuya Yao – who I wouldn’t trust to regulate a baby’s beauty contest. Yet when the legislature is given the job of coming up with a new body, they’re so obsessed with who will control it that they produce an unconstitutional mess.

So, what happens next? The ruling has given the legislature until the end of next year to change the rules on the NCC, and decided that the current members can stay on until the end of 2008. While this seems a bit dodgy from a constitutional viewpoint (they were appointed in an unconstitutional manner, but they’re allowed to continue working), it seems to be a pragmatic attempt to avoid having no regulatory body for a year or so.

Of course, if the existing NCC members make good on their threat to resign en masse, then we’ll have yet another body (along with the Control Yuan and Examination Yuan) sitting empty thanks to the sterling work of the Legislature.

A toothless wonder?

It should be pointed out that in the last few years, the GIO has been a remarkably powerless organisation. Whenever it’s picked a fight with a media organisation, it’s been the GIO that’s come off the worse (whether refusing to renew broadcasting licenses, or trying to regulate TVBS). Maybe this was just down to how incompetently it was run, but more likely it’s a sign that the media has more effective power than the regulators nowadays.

Given Taiwan’s (fairly recent) history of government censorship, this is a good thing – but it does have rather unpleasant side effects: the media can usually get away with almost anything, there’s noone to enforce basic quality standards, and of course TV journalists are the only group who behave worse in public than Taiwanese legislators.

In fact, I can think of only one person who has stood up to the media recently: 80+ year old Wang Hsia (Chen Shui-bian’s mother-in-law). Wang is my new hero, after she calmly filled up a bucket of water, then tried to empty it over the pack of hyenasTV reporters who were bugging her. I was thinking of starting a ‘soak a journalist’ campaign in her honour, but perhaps I should start a ‘Wang Hsia for the NCC Chair’ campaign instead. [Incidentally, has anyone got a good photo of Wang emptying her bucket?]

Anyway, whatever fallout there is from this constitutional ruling, the media in Taiwan is likely to continue to be effectively unregulated. Oh well, too little regulation is much better than too much regulation I suppose …