More constructive discussion is needed, not just about whether these two cases would lead to excessive concentration of media ownership, but also about whether Taiwan should adopt a law to regulate and prevent such monopolies.
People should be asking how to stop media businesses from carrying out acquisitions and mergers that involve excessive cross-media consolidation or concentration of ownership. That is why the National Communications Commission has promised to propose legislation containing clearer rules about media consolidation next month.
All advanced democratic countries have clearer regulations about media concentration than Taiwan. Advances in digital convergence technology have prompted some countries to contemplate limited easing of regulation, but they have no intention of giving a totally free rein to media businesses.
Such countries all have regulations forbidding vertical and horizontal acquisitions and mergers that would lead to excessive concentration of ownership of the mass media outlets that are the biggest and most authoritative sources of news and information.
The regulations in force in various countries are too many and complicated to describe in detail here, but we can look at a few examples.
In Germany the authorities calculate total cross-media market share by means of weighting, stipulating that it cannot go above a certain limit.
The US has regulations concerning the number of licenses and market share held in different media sectors, to the effect that in principle proprietors are not allowed to simultaneously own more than two national newspapers or television stations in any one regional market.
The UK has the 20-20 rule, which prohibits the proprietor of national newspapers with a share of 20 percent or more of the national market from holding more than a 20 percent share in a commercial television company.
These countries also conduct very thorough and careful inspection of all key documents and procedures, including journalistic quality, safeguards for diversity of opinions, professional autonomy and procedures for hearings.
If “anti-China” concerns are a matter of putting people’s opinions on trial, that is not a good thing, but if they have to do with professional autonomy and national interest, China’s influence is an issue that cannot be evaded.
However, there is no necessary connection between this and opposition to media monopoly.
Free societies like the UK, US and Germany do not face a “China factor,” but they all have their respective regulations regarding the concentration of media ownership and procedures for examining such cases.
The incident last summer in which some of the Want Want Group’s media outlets accused Academia Sinica associate research fellow Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) of paying students to attend a protest against the group’s acquisition of cable television services owned by China Network Systems aroused public indignation and street protests, but there was no “China factor” involved.
The core issue under dispute in the cross-media acquisition and merger cases for the nation is the concentration of media ownership and control.
This is the central issue, and it needs to be confronted fair and square, without the focus being blurred.
Flora Chang and Lin Lih-yun are professors at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Journalism.