Media sale 'threat to Taiwan
democracy' By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI - Taiwan civic reform, journalist
and labor organizations have mobilized against the
acquisition of the large Next Media (Taiwan) group
by tycoons linked with mainland China. They say
this threatens Taiwan's news freedom and even the
survival of its democratic political system.
Next Media Group, owned by Hong Kong-based
garment and media owner Jimmy Lai, signed a
contract in Macau on November 29 to sell four
media operations of Next Media (Taiwan) for US$600
million to five investors, including Want Want
China Times group president Tsai Shao-chung (son
of controversial Want Want tycoon Tsai Eng-ming),
Formosa Plastics Group chairman William Wong and
Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey
Taiwan media reported in
mid-October that Next Media Group
chairman Lai planned to
sell his Taiwan print and television outlets,
namely the profitable Chinese-language Apple
Daily, Sharp Daily, Next Weekly and the Next TV
cable network to Koo, Wong and unnamed investors
in the wake of losing substantial funds in his
cable TV venture due to regulatory delays and
difficulty in getting the channels onto operating
Concern over the proposed sale's
impact on Taiwan's media pluralism, news freedom
and democratic politics soared after a leading
business biweekly, Wealth Magazine, reported in
early November that Tsai may be behind the
Tsai, who is a major investor in
Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Asia Television, bought
China Times, the terrestrial China Television
(CTV) and CTI-TV cable television network in
November 2008 and later purchased the China
Systems Network, Taiwan's largest cable TV service
distributor in a deal approved by the National
Communications Commission on July 25 this year.
This was despite bitter opposition by media reform
and civic organizations and "full court press"
assaults by Tsai`s media outlets on critics
including journalists, scholars and opposition
Taiwan Democracy Monitor
president Karl Hsu Wei-chun told IPS that the
takeover of Next Media (Taiwan) by the five
conglomerate tycoons, who have major business
stakes in the People's Republic of China, "will
have a grave structural impact" on Taiwan's
"Anyone who has eyes can see
that this is the method through which China is
buying control over Taiwan, just as in Hong Kong
in the 1990s," Hsu said.
Concern over the
expansion of Tsai's media empire was already
manifested on September 1, when nearly 10,000
journalists, students and NGO activists led by the
Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ)
participated in a 'March Against Media Monopoly'
in Taipei City.
The imminent takeover of
the Next Media (Taiwan) outlets, especially Apple
Daily and Next Magazine, has re-ignited anxiety
over freedom of expression, given the performance
of Apple Daily.
Founded in 2001 by Lai
after the success of Apple Daily and Next Weekly
in Hong Kong, Apple Daily, is known for a
sensationalist and muck-raking style and has
become one of top two national newspapers in
Taiwan, neck and neck with the "Taiwan-centric"
Liberty Times. Both now have far more readership
than the former market-leading conservative United
Daily News or China Times.
In the wake of
Lai's decision, student groups, including a "Youth
Alliance Against Media Monsters" held an overnight
sit-in at the cabinet building on November 27 and
clashed occasionally with police. Labor unions,
which had quickly organized in the four main Next
Media units, held a vigil outside Next Media
headquarters on the evening of the same day.
The Kuomintang government of President Ma
Ying-jeou has remained largely silent, with
Premier Sean Chen stating on November 28 that his
government "will respect the judgment" of several
independent regulatory commissions on fair trade,
finance and communications.
public hearing at the Fair Trade Commission (FTC)
on November 29, scholars, journalists, economists
and consumer-rights representatives unanimously
urged the commission to veto or at least suspend
approval until the national legislature enacts
robust legislation to regulate media
ATJ president Chen Siao-yi
stressed that Taiwan's four national newspapers
retain decisive "agenda setting" influence as
television and radio news media and Internet media
get their news almost entirely from the four
"If these tycoons gain
control over 50% of Taiwan's media, we will never
know how much news will be lost and not published
and how much of what is published is false," Chen
National Taiwan University economics
department chairwoman Cheng Hsiu-ling told the FTC
hearing: "Tsai Eng-meng's WWCT Group will become a
vertically and horizontally integrated hegemon if
the purchase of Next Media is approved."
Cheng estimated that Tsai would gain
control of over 50% of the national newspaper
market, 30% of the cable TV market and 19% of the
wireless TV market, and said this combination
"will result in the concentration of advertising
and circulation, and force the other two national
newspapers out of the market."
IPS: "We will be left with only one giant upstream
source of 'news'."
FTC commissioner Sun
Li-chun has promised that his commission will
proceed with its review in a "transparent" manner.