The National Communications Commission cannot regulate the acquisition of any print media outlet, commission spokesperson Wei Shyue-win (魏學文) said yesterday, adding that the media should strictly follow established codes of conduct for journalism.
Wei made the statement following the announcement by Next Media Group on Tuesday that it was negotiating a deal to sell three of the group’s media outlets, including the Apple Daily (Taiwan), Sharp Daily and Next Magazine.
Next Media Group executive director Cassian Cheung (張嘉聲) said in a letter to the group’s employees that the transaction had been disclosed in accordance with the rules of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd. It did not mean the group has sold any of the publications mentioned.
Local media have listed several potential buyers, including Fubon Financial Holding chairman Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠), HTC chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅), Ruentex Group chairman Samuel Yin (尹衍樑) and Hong Kong business tycoon Li Kai-shing (李嘉誠). Tsai was considered the most likely candidate because the group had succeeded in securing the approval from the commission to purchase cable TV services owned by multiple service operator Kbro Co, the nation’s largest cable TV operator.
One of the promises Fubon Group made to gain the approval was that the group must not form a news channel or a financial information channel within three years after the ruling, which expires next year.
However, the Fubon Group has denied it would buy the publications.
Wei said the commission did not regulate print media and that it was inappropriate for him to comment.
“In my personal opinion, what we heard from civic groups recently was the importance of having an independent and free press,” Wei said. “This is what the public wants and what the journalists pursue.”
“I also agreed with former commission chairperson [Bonnie] Peng (彭芸) when she said that it really depends on the attitude of the media outlet owners. If they are willing to follow established codes of conduct, they can. We also urged the media owners to return editorial independence to the news professionals,” Wei said.
Problems generated by media monopolization have become a hot-button issue after Want Want China Times Group, which owns newspapers, TV stations and magazines, was given conditional approval in July to purchase cable TV services owned by China Network Systems.
The commission’s decision prompted almost 10,000 protesters from journalist associations, student groups and non-governmental organizations to hit the streets on Saturday, asking the commission to enact laws to stop media monopolization.
The issue emerged again yesterday as the Chinese-language China Times filed lawsuits against 11 persons in the Next Media Group.
The former accused the latter of publishing a series of negative reports in the Apple Daily and Next Magazine that it claimed had tarnished the reputation of Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明).
The latter was also alleged to have run a photograph showing Tsai touching his nose and damaged his image with an inappropriate caption for the photograph.
Wei said commissioners “generally agreed” that cross-media ownership needed to be regulated through laws, but he said that the commission has yet to decide if it would enact new laws or amend current ones.