Mon, Jun 04, 2012 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Three NCC members discuss Want Want merger bid

The National Communications Commission’s (NCC) review of Want Want China Times Group’s bid to acquire cable TV services owned by China Network Systems (CNS) continues to cause controversy. In a recent interview, ‘Liberty Times’ (the ‘Taipei Times’ sister paper) staff reporters Lan Tsu-wei, Jennifer Huang and Liu Li-jen discussed the growing problems of media concentration and personalization of criticism highlighted by the case with NCC members Chen Jeng-chang, Weng Hsiao-ling and Chung Chi-hui. This is part one of a two-part interview.

National Communications Commission members Chen Jeng-chang, left, Chung Chi-hui, center, and Weng Hsiao-ling talk with reporters on May 25.

Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): The Want Want-CNS deal is a merger bid worth about NT$70 billion [US$2.22 billion] and has highlighted the controversies associated with cross-media mergers and acquisitions, and media monopolization. Your decisions to withdraw from the review of the case because of accusations made by the [Chinese-language] ‘China Times’ have been praised as much as criticized. How do you feel about this?

Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉): Having withdrawn from the case, I am supposed to refrain from commenting on the matter, but since the proposed bill is still under procedural review and not substantive review, I feel the need to provide clarification on the many public statements and misconceptions [pertaining to the case.]

We were all puzzled when the China Times made its accusations. At the time, the Want Want Group intended to take over both China Television Co and CtiTV and its proposal was unanimously approved by all seven NCC members, who also agreed to set seven conditions — including having the two TV stations establish independent teams — for the group to meet. However, of the seven NCC members, we were the only three to be targeted by the China Times, which groundlessly accused us of “illegal abuse of power” and “malfeasance.”

The takeover bid was approved with reservations based on the principles of opinion diversification and liberalization, and [because we believed that] mandating a news station and a business news station to found their own independent teams was a fairly reasonable request.

[Under normal circumstances,] operators who disagree [with administrative resolutions] are entitled to file an appeal, as allowed by the Administrative Appeal Act (行政訴願法), but the Want Want China Times Group chose to resort instead to using its media subsidiaries to pressure individual commissioners with lengthy critiques.

If we were to review the Want Want-CNS deal under such circumstances, [our] disapproval of the case could be misinterpreted as an act of retaliation, while an approval could also be seen as the result of succumbing to pressure. In this regard and driven by our desire to uphold the highest ethical standards, we resolved to withdraw from the case.

In order to ensure that the review could still be carried out properly by the remaining four NCC members, we closely studied the National Communications Commission Organic Law (國家通訊傳播委員會組織法) before opting to withdraw. [We found that] in practice, several past cases were actually reviewed and ratified by a group of four NCC members through closed-door meetings. Therefore, anyone concerned about the Want Want-CNS case could just look into those cases to gain a more thorough understanding.

Weng Hsiao-ling (翁曉玲): Our withdrawal from the Want Want-CNS case was undertaken after thorough deliberation and aimed at ensuring an environment whereby the remainign four commissioners could review the case beyond reproach. Unfortunately, the Want Want Group continued to accuse us of abusing our power and even mobilized legislators to criticize us and the commission as a whole.

Want Want Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) had said in a public hearing on the case that “his attendance was a fight to defend his dignity.” However, don’t the NCC commissioners need to defend theirs?

With regard to the false accusations by the Want Want Group’s media subsidiaries, I maintained that [we should] press charges both to safeguard the commission’s reputation and to restrain the media from employing public apparatus as a tool to defame administrative agencies.

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