A photograph of prominent US linguist and cultural critic Noam Chomsky holding a placard bearing the words “Anti-Media Monopoly” and “MIT” — the initials of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Chomsky works — has been circulating on the Internet and other media outlets.
Chomsky was later reported to have said later that he did not know that the accompanying Chinese text on the placard included the phrase “Say no to China’s black hands,” and that he hoped that the incident would not be interpreted as representing viewpoints beyond matters of media monopoly and freedom of the press on his part.
Based on this incident, some academics have expressed doubts about the campaign against media monopolization in Taiwan, asking whether it is anti-Chinese in nature and whether it has employed improper and manipulative methods.
As academics specializing in communications studies, we hope that any miscommunication that might have occurred can be cleared up with goodwill, understanding and respect.
It is reasonable to talk about whether an individual’s actions are appropriate.
For example, there has been a lot of discussion about whether Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a university student and founding member of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, acted fittingly when he leveled accusations against Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) during a legislative committee meeting.
However, society should not lose sight of the background to these incidents, namely the question of what opposition to media monopolization is all about. It is therefore important to get back to the core issues of this movement.
Many people are concerned whether regulation of monopolies runs contrary to freedom of expression. At the same time, those who are concerned about monopolies are themselves motivated by the ideals of freedom and diversity. Governments in free societies have to take both these concerns into account in determining the right degree of regulation.
As defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “a monopoly implies an exclusive possession of a market by a supplier of a product or a service for which there is no substitute. In this situation the supplier is able to determine the price of the product.”
Accordingly, advanced democratic countries generally have fair trade systems to make judgements about mergers or other actions that may lead to market monopolies.
This is more so with media markets because publishing and broadcasting have a considerable impact on the expression of truth and opinion that is necessary for the development of a free and democratic society. Countries around the world have established special regulations designed to prevent monopolies arising from excessive concentration of media ownership.
There are two ongoing cases involving the Want Want China Times Group’s plans to acquire cable television services and a big stake in the Next Media Group’s media assets in Taiwan.
The core issue of these cases is not any dispute about the Want Want Group’s opinions, but the question of whether these acquisitions would lead to an excessively high concentration of media ownership.
Other media groups also have issues regarding quality of expression and journalistic professionalism, but none of them involve such a high concentration of ownership through cross-media acquisitions and mergers.