Tue, Oct 18, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Guarding against media monopoly

By Jang Show-ling 鄭秀玲

In his speech celebrating the Republic of China’s centenary on Oct. 10, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said, as he has on previous occasions, that Taiwan enjoys freedom, democracy and affluence. He said that Taiwan’s democracy is the pride of Chinese communities around the world and he finished off his speech by shouting: “Long live Taiwan’s democracy!”

Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), for her part, says that democracy is Taiwan’s paramount value and that only a democracy that tolerates differing opinions can bring long-lasting peace and stability.

When one recalls the authoritarian government and brainwashing that persisted in Taiwan until just two decades ago, one can well appreciate how precious freedom of speech is. In those days, if one picked up a copy of Time magazine that had a picture of former Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) on its inside pages, the image would be blacked out. Anyone who wanted to make suggestions about the way the country was being run could only do so by sticking up a handwritten poster on a wall on the National Taiwan University (NTU) campus — and only at election time. When I was in senior-high school, we students even had to assemble in front of the Presidential Office on Double Ten National Day and shout: “Long live President Chiang [Kai-shek (蔣介石)]!”

These are just a couple of examples that show the lengths to which those in power would go to keep people under control. To this end, they concentrated their power over the media and clamped down on the means of expression. They had no qualms about sacrificing ordinary people’s rights and trampling on democratic values.

It was through the sacrifices and struggle of countless dedicated and idealistic people that political parties, government and the military were forced to pull out of the media. Things got better, but unfortunately not for long. Now, instead, big corporations with huge financial resources and great political influence are probing their tentacles into the media, once more posing a serious threat to freedom of expression.

This pernicious trend is being driven by the growing dominance of big business interests over cable television operations.

There are more than 5 million cable subscribers in the country and more than 15 million viewers. Cable TV operators do not just collect fees from their users; they also get to decide which content providers get allocated a cable channel and which don’t.

Toward the end of last year, the National Communications Commission (NCC) approved the acquisition of the nation’s biggest cable TV operator, Kbro Co, by Dafu Media. Dafu is owned by Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) and his brother Richard Tsai (蔡明興), who own Fubon Financial Holding Co. Now the commission is considering the proposed acquisition of a group of 11 cable TV operators by Want Want China Broadband, which is owned by Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), owner of the Want Want Group.

These two acquisition cases have two things in common. First, they both involve investment in digitization, to the tune of NT$5.2 billion (US$173 million) over five years by Dafu and NT$7.5 billion over seven years by Want Want China Broadband, ie, a little more than NT$1 billion per year in both cases. Second, this investment in digitization is a cover for monopolizing cable TV system operations, with Dafu forking out more than NT$50 billion and Want Want China Broadband more than NT$70 billion to buy up cable TV system companies. The reason why they are willing to spend such huge sums of money is, of course, to uphold their corporate, and possibly political, interests.

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