Media activists yesterday urged the government to intervene to prevent politics from reaching into the press and controlling freedom of speech, saying that this freedom and the liberal media the nation has enjoyed over the past decades may be put at risk if Chinese capital gained control of the media.
The calls came amid reports that China Trust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) has asked Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵) and a Singapore-based equity fund to join him in buying Next Media Group’s (壹傳媒集團) four Taiwanese outlets: the Apple Daily, Next TV, Next Magazine and the Sharp Daily.
Since Hong Kong Media mogul Jimmy Lai (黎智英) announced that he was selling his four outlets in the country for NT$17.5 billion (US$600 million), the deal has drawn a lot of attention. Lai said in an interview with the Apple Daily published on Oct. 18 that he decided to finalize the sale after ensuring that none of the funding would come from Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), with a contract with the buyers set to be signed tomorrow.
However, the Chinese-language Wealth Magazine reported on Nov. 8 that of the NT$17.5 billion pooled by Koo and his associates, up to NT$9 billion came from Tsai.
Many people have expressed misgivings that if the deal goes through, Tsai’s group would dominate the media landscape. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Pan Men-an (潘孟安) yesterday cited a United Daily News report of a meeting in Taipei on Wednesday among the potential buyers where Tsai reportedly gave a “friendly reminder” to Wong and Koo that they ought to be more careful, as they are still operating businesses in China.
“It is both surprising and worrisome that this would have been said,” Pan said, adding that the inaction of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration on media mergers is harming autonomy.
Pointing to comments Tsai Eng-meng reportedly made, in which he said: “How can a newspaper not accept lobbying, or disregard other opinions of China in its stance,” DPP caucus secretary-general Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said such a media management style would unquestionably harm the nation.
“The Next Media buyout is an issue of national security and it is possible that China might use the deal to influence Taiwan in the future and block stories that tarnish its image, such as news about Falun Gong practitioners,” Tsai Chi-chang added.
DPP Legislator Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑) said China is attempting to use economic means and the press to gradually take over Taiwan, adding that if Taiwanese media is controlled by Chinese capital, it would relegating it to Beijing’s mouthpiece.
Activist group the 901 Anti Media Monopoly Coalition yesterday asked the National Communications Commission and the Fair Trade Commission to intervene in the deal by demanding Next Media Group file an application for a merger and hold a formal meeting.
Media mergers should not be a game between corporations, as this would let them swallow the freedom and dynamism of the national media, said Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Journalism, who is also a representative of the Coalition.
Both Next Media Group and its potential buyers should uphold a promise not to fire any of the existing staff, while those dismissed on Oct. 1 should be reinstated if they are willing, Chang said, adding that future owners of the group should also meet with employees to sign a collective agreement and self-regulatory guidelines.