Former National Communications Commission chairperson Bonnie Peng (彭芸) yesterday criticized the commission over its ruling on the transfer of cable TV services owned by China Network System (CNS) to the Want Want China Times Group, questioning why the media regulator was in a hurry to pass the deal.
“They have been reviewing the case for 18 months and could not make any decision,” Peng said. “I don’t understand why they decided to pass the case eight days before four new commissioners take office in a manner resembling a forced march in the military.”
Peng said it was regrettable that three commissioners, including NCC Vice Chairperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) and commissioners Weng Hsiao-ling (翁曉玲) and Chung Chi-hui (鍾起惠), decided to withdraw from the review.
Their respective expertise in economics, law and communications could have helped resolve issues over the concentration of media ownership, she said.
She also accused the commission of not taking into consideration three important media regulations: the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法), the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法) and the Cable Television Act (有線廣播電視法).
The nation could have had a more comprehensive discussion on the issue of cross-media ownership if the commission had begun the work two years ago, she said.
Peng made the remarks at a press conference yesterday in which she unveiled her new book, NCC and Media Policy (NCC, 與媒介政策), in which she comments on the Want Want-CNS deal.
“I look at the deal from a perspective of public interest,” Peng said. “Did [Want Want China Times Group chairman] Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) and his son purchase the cable television services of CNS based on the public interest? The new reports said that Tsai was sincere in his interview with the commissioners and promised to do the best. Well, best of what?”
Peng said that Tsai posted pictures of Chen, Weng and Chung in its Chinese-language China Times daily and accused them of giving the group a hard time when the commission reviewed a deal in which Want Want Holdings purchased the China Times in 2008.
She said she defended three commissioners, for which she was being criticized by Want Want China Times Group TV networks for a week.
“If that was public interest, then all the communications departments in the universities around the nation should be closed by now,” Peng said.
The commission granted conditional approval of the Want Want China Broadband-CNS deal, making Want Want China Times Group the largest media group in the nation. Aside from the cable TV services, the group also owns the Want Daily, CtiTV, China Television (CTV) and magazine China Times Weekly.
The ruling on the deal came with three conditions: Tsai and his family must not have anything to do with the management of CtiTV’s new channel, the operational plan of CTV’s digital news channel must be changed to make it a non-news channel and CTV’s news department must have an independent editorial system.
The approval will not take effect if Want Want fails to fulfill the conditions before specific deadlines or infringes the conditions.
In addition to the seven commitments made earlier, Want Want was also said to have agreed to 25 “commitments” listed by the commission, which are deemed by the commission to be part of the approved operational plan.
Some of the important ones include giving two free set-top boxes for each household subscribing to its cable service, providing a monthly subscription fee below the national average, making high-speed Internet service with transmission speed of 100Mbps available by June next year and reaching 100 percent of penetration rate for the digital cable television service by 2014. The group cannot establish new news channels, financial news channels or home shopping channels, either.