FTC hears concerns over Next buyout

CRUCIAL CASE::Former FTC commissioner Shih Jun-ji said the deal offers no benefits to society and there is no reason for the commission to approve the buyout

By Camaron Kao  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - Page 1

Academics and representatives of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday voiced their worries about the buyout of Next Media Group’s (壹傳媒集團) Taiwanese operations, urging the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) to consider the importance of having diverse voices in the media when reviewing the deal.

At a public hearing organized by the commission yesterday, former FTC commissioner Shih Jun-ji (施俊吉) said the review of the Next Media buyout is the most important case in the commission’s history.

Shih said the commission should spare no effort to prevent buyers from circumventing the law, adding that the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法) stipulates that the commission should not only take into consideration the benefit to the economy as a whole, but also the public interest.

In terms of the public interest, the government should create an environment that allows newspapers to produce materials from as many perspectives as possible, while the accuracy of news is also of vital importance, he said.

There is no economic benefit for society from the deal, while the disadvantages that will result from it are that the public will only be given limited perspectives on events in the future, Shih said, adding that there is no reason for the commission to approve the deal.

Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) president Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) emphasized the unique nature of the media as a means for the public to obtain information. She demanded that the FTC’s commissioners review the case differently from other cases.

Chen said the print media have agenda-setting power for the entire media industry and have often dictated what news is broadcast on local TV stations the following day.

Therefore, because of the influence print media have, it is not sufficient for the commission to make a decision based on market share alone, she said.

Citing a survey conducted by AC Nielsen, Jang Show-ling (鄭秀玲), a professor of economics at National Taiwan University, said Want Want China Times Group’s (旺旺中時集團) share of Taiwan’s media market would exceed 50 percent after the buyout deal goes through.

As Want Want Group has a record of using its media outlets to attack its critics or those who stand in its way, Jang said the disadvantages resulting from the Next Media deal are too significant to be ignored.

Jang became emotional when she said that she had to stay alert on the street because of her involvement in the case.

FTC spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said that the commission would try to incorporate the importance of diverse voices on the media into their review process.

Sun said the information the commission has now suggests that there are two groups of buyers and two contracts. One is related to Next Media’s print media and the other to its electronic media.

The commission has yet to receive a formal submission of the deal, he said.