As the controversy over the National Communications Commission’s (NCC) review of Want Want China Times Group’s bid to acquire cable TV services owned by China Network Systems (CNS) continues, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) has nominated new members of the commission, saying he expects the nominations to be approved by the legislature before the end of July. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞), convener of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, has promised that the case will be decided before the end of the current session.
Regardless of whether we are dealing with the current crop of NCC members or the next, Want Want’s proposed acquisition cannot go ahead. The reasons for this are threefold: first, to prevent media convergence; second, because Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) is not fit to operate cable channels; and third, for reasons of national security.
It is generally recognized in democracies the world over that concentrating a nation’s media in the hands of a small number of organizations will lead to the monopolization of expression, which contradicts the fundamental values of pluralist democracy.
Want Want is already Taiwan’s largest mass media organization. If it now goes on to acquire parts of CNS, it will control the viewing content of more than 1 million cable TV subscribers. Combined with the group’s already considerable influence over news reporting in this country, the acquisition would almost certainly cause monopolization of expression, threatening our democracy.
The next point is that the group’s chairman, Tsai, is unfit to run a media organization.Tsai has instructed China Times journalists not to criticize the president or government officials, he dismissed the China Times editor-in-chief for publishing “[Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman] Chen Yunlin is a C-lister,” he claimed in a Washington Post interview that the person pictured obstructing the tanks in the Tiananmen Square Massacre “is still alive,” indicating that he thought there was no massacre and he also offered a NT$1 million (US$34,000) reward to anyone who could reveal the identity of a current China Times reporter who, under the pseudonym Chien Chung-shih (錢衷時), published an article in the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) in February criticizing the China Times for being pro-China.
Such behavior suggests that Tsai does not possess modern democratic values, something that someone running a media empire should certainly have.
In addition, there was the major coverage in the China Times of China’s Fujian Province Governor Su Shulin’s (蘇樹林) visit to Taiwan, to which the paper devoted lavish attention five days in a row. Responding to a question in the legislature, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said an investigation had shown there was “clear evidence” that the newspaper had been involved in illegal advertising in this case.
Evidently, the Want Want bid is about more than mere media convergence: The group’s willingness to help the Chinese government peddle propaganda in Taiwan also constitutes a national security issue. The National Communications Commission should be thinking in terms of preventing the acquisition on the grounds of national security.
In the event that the commission is powerless to stop the acquisition on a legal basis, the very least it should do is restrict the group’s right to operate a news cable channel. This is really the comission’s legal bottom line.