Several dozen students yesterday protested in front of the Executive Yuan, calling on the government to carefully review the plan to buy Next Media Group’s (壹傳媒集團) four Taiwanese outlets, to avoid the concentration of media in the hands of the few and to protect freedom of the press.
The demonstration was held one day before the consortium led by Chinatrust Charity Foundation (中信慈善基金會) chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒), Formosa Plastics Group (FPG, 台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵) and Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) are to sign a contract to buy the media outlets from the Hong Kong-based Next Media.
“Premier Sean Chen (陳冲), come out and make a promise,” the students shouted in the rain.
They then presented five demands to the Executive Yuan regarding the deal: that the buyout be subjected to a stringent review, that legislation be implemented against the creation of media monopolies, that media interference from China be countered, that freedom of the press be protected and that Next Media Group employees affected by the buyout be given appropriate support.
The Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters said none of the three buyers in the plan are qualified to operate media outlets, especially if the Want Want China Times Group acquires the print media section of Next Media, which will give it 46 percent of the market share — effectively turning it into a media monopoly.
The alliance said it is concerned about Chinese interference in the Taiwanese press and also with the government’s passive attitude to setting regulations against media monopolies. The protesters said they feared the government would approve the deal and demanded the Executive Yuan promise to meet their demands or they would not leave.
During the demonstration, several activists from civic groups and academics showed up to support the students, including Taiwan Labour Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯), independent documentary film producer Kevin H.J. Lee (李惠仁), Association of Taiwan Journalists president Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) and Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Journalism.
Physical clashes between several students and the police occurred when some demonstrators began trying to climb the fence and enter the building after protesting for nearly two hours in the rain without a response from the premier or the Executive Yuan’s spokesperson.
Shortly after the clashes, alliance spokesman Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) asked the students to stage a quiet sit-in protest through the night until they received a commitment from the Executive Yuan.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called for the government to make a comprehensive effort to monitor the controversial deal and accused Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators of being on the side of the potential buyers.
Proposals submitted by DPP lawmakers, which demanded government agencies investigate the consortium members and sources of investment, and strictly monitor the transaction were all blocked by the KMT in the legislature’s Economic Committee meeting yesterday.
Wong, Koo and Tsai are expected to sign the the NT$17.5 billion (US$601.2 million) deal today.
“The KMT’s blocking of our proposals was the most brutal I have ever seen in the legislature,” DPP caucus convener Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) told a press conference.
In the morning session, DPP lawmakers demanded officials from the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Communications Commission (NCC) closely monitor the deal over concerns about restricting freedom of speech and compromising national security due to Chinese influence.
In particular, the resolutions asked the FSC to look for connections between Tsai and his investments in China, for the FTC to monitor the post-deal media concentration map due to Tsai’s ownership of several media outlets and for the NCC to strictly review if Tsai is qualified to be a media owner given his reputation of editorial interference.
Under the supervision of KMT caucus director-general Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), the KMT blocked the DPP’s resolutions. The DPP later changed the proposals into non-binding recommendations, but the KMT still blocked them.
Ker condemned the KMT’s bias toward large corporations and said the ruling party “was risking inciting an all-out war with the opposition,” adding that the DPP would “fight the KMT until the very end” in the upcoming screening of government budgets.
In addition to the deal potentially damaging press freedom and media development, the risk of increasing China’s influence on Taiwanese media is an even more serious concern, DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said, referring to recent remarks made by Wong.
The Formosa Plastics chairman was quoted as saying in an interview on Nov. 10 that Beijing “would be pleased” with FPG’s investment in the media business.
“I wonder who the KMT is trying to please — the business tycoons or the Chinese Communist Party?” DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲) said.
The KMT set an unprecedented example in the committee by overturning a resolution reached in a Transportation Committee meeting last week that asked the NCC to review the deal after the third reading of a proposed anti-media monopoly act, Huang said.