Media monopolization has become a serious concern in Taiwan, legislators across party lines said yesterday as they proposed to amend laws to tighten regulations concerning media mergers and investments.
The lawmakers, along with academics, also demanded that the government reject a controversial bid by Want Want China Broadband to acquire 11 cable television services owned by China Network Service (CNS), which they said would create a “media monster.”
The NT$76 billion (US$2.57 billion) merger could affect 1.18 million households, or about a quarter of households with a TV nationwide.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) told a press conference that she has proposed to amend the Cable Radio and Television Act (有線廣播電視法) and bar all newspapers and television stations or shareholders who hold a minimum 10 percent share in those companies from investing in cable operators.
Cable operators are also prohibited from national news channels and programs in the proposed bill, she said.
The call for change is legitimate, Yu said, as more than 3,000 academics and civic groups had been expressing grave concerns over media concentration since last year after the Want Wang China Broadband submitted its bid proposal.
The proposal intends to prevent individuals or enterprises from monopolization of the media and to protect freedom of expression and diversity of speech, Yu said.
The “movement” did not single out Want Want Group, because people are more concerned with the future overall development of the media, National Taiwan University (NTU) professor Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華) said.
If news media of all platforms could merge with cable operators at will, a media conglomerate could become too powerful and end up jeopardizing the freedom and diversity of speech, she said.
“If it’s not the Want Want Group, there could be another company making bids tomorrow,” Chang said.
A National Communications Commission resolution in 2010 affirmed its insistence that cable operators should not be involved in the operation of new channels, she said, adding that it would be better to “enshrine the resolution into written law.”
Citing the example of Germany, Chang said the German Commission on Concentration in the Media was established to screen media merger cases.
Additionally, the US and the UK have also been very cautious in their dealings with large media merger cases, which has had negative impacts on journalistic quality and coverage of the underprivileged, she said.
Liu Ching-yi (劉靜怡) of NTU said an amendment was necessary because the development of Taiwan’s media industry in the past two decades has been “sickening.”
“And it has never improved. Why? Because regulations have not been in place. That is why we need to empower the administrative branch with legal support,” Liu said.
Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Huang Wen-ling (黃文玲) said her party would support the proposal and oppose the Want Want-CNS deal.
In response, the commission said it respects the lawmakers’ right to propose amendments to laws.
Additional reporting by Liu Li-jen