Want Want plans new title with Fujian Daily Group

By J. Michael Cole and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter and Staff writer

Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 1

Amid growing fears of monopolization and Chinese influence on local media, the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) plans to launch a new magazine next month in cooperation with the Fujian Daily Group, which is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

According to Media News Online, which is published by the School of Communications at Ming Chuan University, the first issue of Media Plus (兩岸傳媒), a magazine focusing on cross-strait media and cultural affairs, will be launched in Taiwan next month, with reporters and financing coming from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The magazine is to be published in traditional characters in Taiwan and simplified characters in China.

A trial issue was published earlier this month to pave the way for the magazine’s official launch, said Wang Cho-chung (王綽中), the periodical’s editor-in-chief.

Last month’s trial issue of Media Plus was sent free to professors of mass communication, journalists and people working in advertising and culturally innovative industries, said Wang, who is also editor-in-chief of the Chinese-language Want Daily — also owned by the Want Want China Times Group.

The two media groups began cooperating in October last year when a pilot journal published under the same Chinese title, but using the name Cross-strait Media in English, was launched.

Media Plus will have 32 people working in four departments. While Wang will serve as the editorial head of the publication, veteran journalist Pan Kang (潘罡) will be the deputy editor-in-chief.

In an effort to supply readers with firsthand information concerning China’s media and cultural industries, the magazine will also have four reporters in China: Lu Su-mei (盧素梅) in Haixi, Qinghai Province; Lin Tsung-sheng (林琮盛) in Beijing; Sung Ting-yi (宋丁儀) in Shanghai and Chen Man-nung (陳曼儂) in Changsha, Hunan Province.

The publication has thus far produced two versions of its trial issue and undergone a name change from Prime Media to Media Plus.

“The title Media Plus represents the publication’s aim of providing its readers with the latest on cross-strait media and cultural industries, as well as conveying the magazine’s content giving ‘plus information,’” Wang said.

However, in addition to “plus information,” readers in Taiwan could be getting a dose of propaganda as well. The Fujian Daily Group, which operates a number of television, radio and print media outlets, has close ties to the CCP and has promoted “reunification” with Taiwan for more than six decades.

There has been growing opposition in Taiwan in recent months to acquisitions by the Want Want China Times Group of various media outlets, including the cable TV operations of China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路) in a NT$76 billion (US$2.52 billion) deal, and the group’s being part of a consortium bidding for the Next Media Group’s Taiwanese outlets. These include Next Magazine and the Apple Daily, long known for its critical stance on the CCP.

Behind the group lies controversial chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), a Taiwan-born billionaire who made his fortune in China. His detractors have accused him of downplaying China’s human rights violations, denying that the events at Tiananmen Square in June 1989 constituted a massacre and of saying that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could not be “reunited” soon enough.

Tsai has also been accused of using his media empire to assail those opposed to his media acquisitions, sparking a series of resignations at his TV and print outlets. If the Next Media deal gets the go-ahead from regulatory agencies, Tsai’s empire could control as much as 45 percent of Taiwan’s print media, a proportion critics say is dangerously high.

Mattel Hsu (許建榮), a doctoral candidate in political science at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who closely follows media developments in Taiwan, said that while Tsai’s group was not the first to cooperate with official Chinese newspapers, this could be the first time the Chinese government would provide capital toward a publication intended for the Taiwanese market.

Previous cross-strait cooperation in the media sector, such as that between the Greater Kaohsiung-based Commons Daily and the Straits Herald — also part of the Fujian Daily Group — had been limited to the sharing of news sources, Hsu said.

When cooperation between the Commons Daily and the Herald began, the Web site of the formerly pro-independence newspaper was no longer blocked in China, Hsu added.

Inquiries by the Taipei Times to government agencies seem to indicate that Chinese injections of capital in the domestic print media market might fall through the cracks, with one agency after another claiming that regulating print media was not their responsibility.

An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which absorbed the now-defunct Government Information Office last year, told the Taipei Times that after consulting with staff at the ministry, the consensus was that the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) was in charge of regulating investment in print media.

However, when approached for comment, FSC Secretary-General Chen Yuh-chang (陳裕璋) said the commission was in charge of supervising banks, insurers, securities and fund houses, and that media firms fall under the jurisdiction of the National Communications Commission (NCC), with the Investment Commission under the Ministry of Economic Affairs perhaps also playing a role if foreign investments are involved.

An Investment Commission spokesman said he had never heard of the publication, which meant the commission was not in charge of reviewing the plan.

Meanwhile, NCC spokesperson Yu Hsiao-cheng (虞孝成) said print media was no longer regulated by the Publication Act (出版法), which was abolished in 1999, adding that the NCC was only in charge of supervising broadcast media.

Under laws guaranteeing freedom of speech, Tsai has every right to publish such a magazine, Yu said.

Additional reporting by Crystal Hsu and Shelley Shan