The National Communications Commission’s (NCC) conditional approval of a massive media merger on Wednesday marked the darkest day in the history of media freedom in the country and continued political interference in the media, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday.
The party “strongly opposed” the commission’s approval of Want Want China Times Group’s (旺旺中時集團) NT$76 billion (US$2.52 billion) acquisition of cable television service provider China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路), which would create an intermedia monopoly, DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said.
Lin said the party condemned the commission’s opaque, closed-door review of the merger application and demanded full disclosure of all records and video recordings of the meeting.
While the deal was neither legitimate nor urgent, it was hastily approved with one week left before the terms of the four remaining NCC commissioners ended, he said.
“We suspect that it was President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) paying back those corporates that supported his re-election bid,” Lin said, describing the deal as “political interference.”
A corporate head like Want Want Group chairman Tsai Eng-ming (蔡衍明), who has claimed that very few people actually died in the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989 and that he did not understand why news reports cannot be sold for profit, is not qualified to run a media group, the DPP said, adding that was why academics and media watch groups here and abroad opposed the deal.
The party said that freedom of speech was deteriorating, with Taiwan’s global press freedom ranking by the US-based Freedom House dropping from 32nd in 2008 to 48th this year.
DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) questioned whether the three suspension clauses listed by the commission as mandatory requirements would be effectively implemented.
The three clauses require that Tsai sell CTiTV (中天電視), transform China Television Co’s (中視) CTV news channel into a non-news channel and that CTV establish an independent news review and editing policy.
While the term of the four commissioners — including NCC Chairperson Su Herng (蘇蘅) — run through the end of this month, the controversial deal, which had been stalled for 18 months, was hastily approved after two NCC meetings, DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said.
“The three suspension clauses and the 25 additional clauses are meaningless if you cannot monitor whether they are actually implemented,” she said.
“Let me tell you what media monopoly is. It’s a media company with 19 TV channels, three newspapers and a magazine now adding 11 cable TV channels and which [has the power to] influence about a quarter of households with a TV nationwide,” DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said.
Such a media monster would not exist in other democracies, she said, adding that the group would be able to remove the channels it dislikes.
It could even operate for political gain with its technology, which is able to record the viewing behavior of all home users and get to know their political affiliation and use this information as a campaign tool, Cheng said.
“In other words, it can manipulate the democratic system we now enjoy,” she said.