ERA Communications (年代集團) may be controlling too many news channels in Taiwan, The National Communications Commission (NCC) said yesterday, adding that it would ask ERA chairman Lien Tai-sheng (練台生) to make specific written commitments before again reviewing Next TV’s (壹電視) ownership change.
Next Media’s Next TV was sold to Lien for NT$1.4 billion (US$46 million) in April this year. The commission — the administrative agency in charge of reviewing ownership changes in the broadcast media — ruled in May that a public hearing of the case be held on July 2.
The commission reviewed the case again in its weekly meeting yesterday, during which NCC commissioners reviewed the opinions presented at the hearing. Next TV general manager Chen Shou-kuo (陳守國) also attended the review session to answer questions by the commissioners. The commission ruled to move to continuance on the case and asked ERA to turn the commitments it made at the hearing into written documents before they review case again at another time.
The commitments required were in six categories. The most significant one was that Lien and his group will explain the plan for the news channels under their control.
Information from the commission showed that the group owns or serves as agent for eight news channels. They are Unique News Channels, Unique Business Channel, SET News Channel, ERA News Channel, Formosa News Channel, Next News Channel, Next Information Channel and Japan’s NHK Network.
More than half of the local news channels are owned by Lien’s group, making it the largest agent for news channels in the nation, the commission said.
Aside from the eight news channels, Lien owns or serves as agent for 10 other non-news channels. He also owns two cable television systems in Hualien and in Taitung.
“It has come to the attention of the commissioners that the group may be owning too many news channels,” NCC chief secretary Wong Po-tsung (翁柏宗) said. “We want them to address the issue and turn it into a written statement, which would become part of its proposed operational plan for the TV network.”
Sources within the commission said that Lien may be asked to terminate his representation of some of the news channels or make specific commitments on how he would not obstruct any channel from being carried in his or other cable television systems.
The group was also asked to explain how it plans to keep Next TV’s ethics committee running independently. Meanwhile, the group must explain how it plans to fill the job vacancies in Next TV after one-third of reporters left before or during the change of ownership.
“We also want to hear from them how they plan to differentiate Next TV from ERA TV and how they ensure that these two news departments operate independently,” NCC specialist Chan Yi-lien (詹懿廉) said.
“They should explain the guidelines they use to handle the news about the group per se as well,” he added.