Want Want monopoly threatens democracy

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎  / 

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 - Page 8

This week, Christians have celebrated Christmas and much of the world will celebrate the Western New Year. This is usually a time for people around the world to be thankful. We are of course thankful for the blessings we have received during the past year, but there is also a lot of pain, anguish and uncertainty.

In the US, we have to deal with the pain and anguish caused by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the Middle East, there is continued civil strife in Syria and unrest in Egypt. And in the Far East, there is tension surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and the South China Sea caused by China’s aggressive behavior toward its neighbors, while the people of Tibet and East Turkestan continue to suffer under harsh and repressive Chinese rule.

In Taiwan, people were fortunate not to be faced with natural or man-made disasters this year as nature kept devastating typhoons and earthquakes away from Taiwan’s shores. The year has been relatively peaceful.

However, there are worrying clouds gathering that need the attention of Taiwanese and their international friends.

This is particularly true of the erosion of press freedom in Taiwan brought about by the takeover of China Network Systems’ cable TV network by the Want Want China Times Group in September and — even more ominously — the purchase of the Next Media Group, which includes the Apple Daily, by the same Want Want group controlled by chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明).

This takeover would be alright if Tsai was a pro-democracy media magnate who respected the freedom of the press and journalistic and editorial independence. However, Tsai has not hesitated to display his support for the repressive rulers in Beijing and has time and again interfered in reporting and editing in the media under his control. The Committee to Protect Journalists and numerous other respected organizations have voiced concerns over the takeover.

The problem is, that with these new purchases, the Want Want group controls about 50 percent of all printed and electronic media in Taiwan — a serious situation under even normal circumstances.

This is a media monopoly in the making.

However, Taiwanese are not living under “normal” circumstances: Their country is being claimed by a giant neighbor and most countries around the world do not accord it diplomatic recognition out of fear of that neighbor.

So, given that background, it would be prudent for the responsible regulatory agencies — the Fair Trade Commission and the National Communications Commission — to think twice before they approve this sale.

If Taiwan is to remain a free and democratic country, it needs to ensure that the basic elements of freedom and democracy remain in place. It is therefore essential that Taiwan’s media do not gradually slide into the control of a conglomerate that is so obviously susceptible to pressures from Beijing.

Free news media is consistently thought of as a critical component of a true democracy and it must be protected. During the American Revolution, one famous “reporter” in 1775, Paul Revere, is said to have alerted patriots that “the British are coming,” before an impending attack.

Plenty of people in Taiwan are clear what could be coming next year.

Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The views expressed in this article are his own.