What you need to know
Taiwan's government announced plans to regulate content on streaming and social media platforms. The opposition Kuomintang suggested they limit freedom of speech and introduce censorship.
Taiwan’s government announced plans this week to regulate content on streaming and social media platforms.
With two bills, the National Communications Commission (NCC) is seeking to expand its regulatory scope over content beyond cable television.
The move sparked an immediate outcry from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), who accuses the current administration of “clamping on freedom of speech” and “censoring the Internet.”
The first bill proposes to allow streaming services to register their business “on a voluntary basis.” But the NCC also reserves the rights to make registration mandatory based on public interests, the KMT said during a press conference. Failure to meet the request will result in a fine of up to NT$1 million.
Another article in the bill that could limit freedom of speech, the KMT suggested, is that service providers have to disclose how they plan to produce or co-produce Taiwan-related content and its proportion to all the offerings.
Alicia Wang, director of the KMT’s Culture and Communications Committee, pointed out Article 13 of the bill as a “King’s clause.” It authorizes the NCC to decide if a provider’s content is “harming national security” or “harming public order or good morals” and impose a fine of up to NT$1 million if improvements are not made in time.
Wang criticized the bill as an attempted control on free speech, allowing the government to interfere in the operations of social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. The KMT also claimed that this would further censor speech unfavorable to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party after CTi News was shut down.
However, NCC Chairman Chen Yaw-shyang called the KMT’s explanation “misleading,” emphasizing that the NCC seeks to regulate only streaming service providers instead of social media or the Internet as a whole. He stressed that television series are the target of the bill.
“We have been careful about such a controversial legislation,” Chen told the press. “Everything is on the table now, but the KMT’s statement sounds like a product of political manipulation.”
In August, the government banned the two most popular Chinese streaming services, Iyiqi and Tencent’s WeTV, from operating in Taiwan. The Ministry of Economic Affairs said Taiwanese companies and individuals will be prohibited from partnering with video service providers in China.
The NCC has been drafting another bill, called the Digital Communications Act, to regulate social media content. The Act, which had been proposed in 2018, did not pass the parliament because of censorship concerns.
It would allow social media users to report content they regard as misinformation and require social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, to remove it or receive a fine.
Many netizens are skeptical of the bill, though. Last Friday, an NCC’s Facebook post discussed the Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co., a U.S. court decision that held online service providers liable for the speech of their users. It provoked anger among Taiwanese netizens who questioned if it meant that the government is taking control of the Internet.
The NCC denied the allegation and apologized on the same day for causing misunderstanding, but criticism did not abate.
The chairman said that the proposed Act would better allow the regulation of “inappropriate” remarks on online platforms and that it would not be used to censor the Internet.
Anonymous government officials said the NCC hopes to reach a consensus on the content of the bill within six months to a year.
These legal attempts by the government came at a sensitive time after the NCC rejected CTi’s request to renew its television broadcasting license in November.
The pro-China news station, now prohibited from operating in cable television networks, seamlessly switched to YouTube last weekend and has increased its subscribers to 2 million within two days.
While many support the NCC’s decision to revoke the license, CTi’s supporters are by no means a minority in Taiwan. The group, along with members of the KMT, are likely to keep using the ban as a reference for attacking the government’s media reforms.
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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)
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