Taiwan’s media is in danger of becoming the mouthpiece of China’s rice-cake and flavored milk king, Want Want Group founder Tsai Eng-Meng (蔡衍明). Concentrating too much of any nation’s media in the hands of one conglomerate is always dangerous, but even more so in the case of Tsai.
The Want Want boss has made no attempt to hide his vociferous pro-Beijing political slant and often makes outrageous statements geared toward pleasing the Chinese authorities, despite simultaneously twisting history. In January, Tsai told the Washington Post that the brutal and bloody suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 did not really amount to a massacre, and he threw doubt on the number killed and the motives of the students involved in the mass demonstrations. This statement prompted 60 academics to launch a boycott of his paper.
Numerous reports have also surfaced about the pressure that Want Want exerts on reporters at the China Times Group to edit their reports so that they are more palatable to the Chinese authorities, including publicizing up-beat stories about President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and exaggerating coverage of Want Want’s conflict with the National Communications Commission (NCC), as well as threats to sue journalists in competing media who write negative reports about Want Want’s bid for China Network Systems (CNS).
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been doing almost anything to make Beijing happy since it regained power in 2008, but even the KMT is uncomfortable with Want Want taking control of a huge swath of Taiwan’s television networks.
Why? Obviously, even in the KMT, there are politicians who do not want to hand control of Taiwan’s media over to China.
Want Want was fined NT$1.8 million (US$61,000) — a drop in the bucket for Tsai — for allowing embedded marketing by the Chinese government in its publications. However, when confronted about this episode during a cross-party legislative review of his bid to buy a controlling interest in cable TV networks owned by CNS, Tsai had the gall to say he did not see anything wrong with allowing Beijing or local Chinese governments to advertise in his media. That alone should have killed his bid, but it did not.
China is a country that has territorial aims on Taiwan and the media is a powerful weapon in attaining that goal. Tsai’s comments amounted to an admission that he was handing that weapon to the Chinese, meaning he does not give a damn about Taiwan, its democracy or its sovereignty.
In the meantime, a source says Tsai and Want Want are using their protracted bid to block Next Media from getting approval to launch a television network in Taiwan. In essence, the pro-communist head of an instant food conglomerate who acquired a media empire to promote his products alongside Beijing’s political ambitions is blocking the bid of an independent, although controversial, journalism group from Hong Kong that really does make its living by selling news — not noodles.
Tsai himself has given the public, academia and the government too many reasons to doubt his motives for seeking a vast media monopoly. It is also doubtful his empire would police itself by following the demands made of it by the NCC if its bid is allowed to go through.
If Want Want is permitted to expand further in Taiwan, then the nation’s media could be in serious danger of being monopolized by Chinese interests.