Hundreds of young Taiwanese from around the nation yesterday continued to put pressure on the government to act against media monopolization and reject the sale of the Next Media Group’s (壹傳媒集團) Taiwanese businesses to two consortiums with a six-hour protest outside the Joint Government Office Building, where officials from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) and academics were holding a public hearing on the sale.
Next Media Group signed an agreement on Tuesday to sell its four Taiwanese businesses — the Chinese-language Apple Daily, Next Magazine, Sharp Daily and Next TV — for NT$17.5 billion (US$600 million) to two consortiums comprised of Chinatrust Charity Foundation (中信慈善基金會) chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒), Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵), Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Lung Yen Life Service Corp (龍巖集團) chairman David Lee (李世聰) and Taiwan Fire & Marine Insurance Co (台灣產物保險) chairman Steve Lee (李泰宏).
The sale has raised fears of a media monopoly and undue influence from China on Taiwan’s media, in light of the investors’ major business operations across the Taiwan Strait. Critics of Tsai, Taiwan’s wealthiest person, who made his fortune in China, have accused him of interfering with editorial matters at his other media outlets.
For some of the protesters, the journey to Taipei began as early as 3:30am yesterday, as they boarded buses and headed for the capital to express their concerns about the deal.
A large delegation from the south was welcomed by loud cheers as it joined other participants outside the building, which was locked down under heavy security and barbed wire.
Police officers asked for the ID of anyone seeking to enter the building.
In all, about 500 people, mostly university students, braved the damp weather as the meeting began at 9am. According to the organizers, the participants came from 36 universities nationwide.
Some had already taken part in two protests in front of the Executive Yuan earlier this week organized by the student group Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, which also helped organize a much larger protest on Sept. 1 against the planned acquisition by Tsai of the cable TV services operated by China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路).
In a display of fraternity, representatives from each academic institution were invited up on stage to display banners or placards with the name of their school inscribed on them and they were greeted by huge applause.
As student leaders and academics addressed the young crowd, it soon became clear that few had high expectations that the FTC, along with the National Communications Commission (NCC), the Investment Commission and the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) — the agencies that are to review the acquisition — would do a thorough job.
Alliance convener Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) said the demonstrators were asking the FTC to investigate the issue of horizontal and vertical media integration that would be caused by the deal, and to hold a legally binding hearing so that the review procedures would be transparent.
They are also demanding that the legislature enact an anti-media monopoly law as soon as possible, Lin said.
“We will give the FTC two weeks to prepare for and hold a hearing, and we demand that it reject the deal in a month,” Lin told the protesters.