The government will review the acquisition of Next Media Group’s Taiwanese assets based on rules governing fair trade and investments in media by foreign buyers, rather than the political stance of the buyers, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) said yesterday.
In November, Hong Kong-listed Next Media sold its four outlets in Taiwan to a consortium comprising several business leaders, including the son of pro-China tycoon Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), chairman of the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團).
The sale — which is pending government approval — has provoked protests against the concentration of the mass media in the hands of a few China-friendly conglomerates, most recently in an overnight protest on New Year’s Eve by hundreds of university students.
At the Cabinet meeting yesterday, the premier said he would not interfere in the review of the acquisition by the Fair Trade Commission and the National Communications Commission, two of the agencies in charge of looking into the details of the deal.
The Fair Trade Commission will determine whether the overall economic benefits of the merger outweigh the disadvantages resulting from loss of competition as stipulated in the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法), while the National Communications Commission will examine the qualifications of media outlet owners, among other issues, under related laws, Chen said.
As a democracy ruled by law, it would be improper for the Cabinet to intervene in a private sector deal, Chen said.
“I will never do that. It’s also inappropriate,” he said.
The two agencies will be allowed to scrutinize the acquisition free of interference, Chen said, adding that the Cabinet would respect the results of their review.
Whatever political stance media shareholders and media owners have and whatever political orientation they advocate, they will not be targets of scrutiny in media mergers, Chen said.
The passion the students have shown and public participation in the case have demonstrated that Taiwanese care about the future of the nation, he said.
Since Taiwan has implemented laws based on the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Cabinet will seek to guarantee the public’s right to information as stipulated in Article 19 of the covenant, Chen said.
The premier said the Cabinet supported the idea proposed by National Communications Commission Chairperson Howard Shyr (石世豪) on Wednesday to enact laws to prevent media acquisitions from restraining freedom of expression.