Union warns HK over Next Media deal

NO CERTAINTY::The Taiwan News Media Trade Union told the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong to inspect huge problems related to the Next Media deal

By Chris Wang  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Nov 21, 2012 - Page 3

The Taiwan News Media Trade Union yesterday sent a letter to the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong and warned that the pending deal in which a Taiwanese consortium is to buy the Next Media Group could jeopardize the interests of the group’s Hong Kong shareholders.

Given that the deal could be rejected by Taiwan’s National Telecommunications Commission (NCC), and the unresolved labor disputes between Next Media founder Jimmy Lai (黎智英) and his employees, the union urged the commission to conduct the necessary inspections and disclose its findings to the group’s shareholders in Hong Kong.

Next Media Ltd, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, has agreed to sell its businesses in Taiwan to Formosa Plastics Group chairman William Wong (王文淵), Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) and Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) for NT$17.5 billion (US$601.2 million).

However, the commission has so far only disclosed the date of the acquisition and omitted disclosing the uncertainty of the deal being inked, which could harm Hong Kong shareholders’ interests, TNMTU president Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) said in the letter.

The NCC could reject the deal for a number of reasons, Chen said.

It could be rejected if found to violate the principle of the separation of the financial sector and media, Chen said.

She added that Tsai and Koo’s qualification for ownership was also in question, as Tsai already controls various media businesses in Taiwan and has repeatedly interfered with newsroom autonomy in the past, while Koo has been sentenced to nine years in jail in a corruption case.

Next Media Taiwan laid off more than 10 percent of its employees before the deal was announced, prompting several employees to complain to the labor authorities and ask for negotiations to protect their rights and interests, Chen said.

Additionally, Lai has not yet responded to the demands made by four unions under Next Media Taiwan for negotiating a collective labor agreement, as well as negotiating an editorial agreement protecting workers’ rights and journalistic autonomy, Chen added.

Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) joined her party’s calls yesterday, saying that a media monopoly could jeopardize freedom of speech and media outlets should not be controlled by conglomerates.

“It appears that Taiwanese society has yet to realize that the influence of certain interest groups or parties is the most serious threat to media in Taiwan. That could be dangerous. There would be no democracy in Taiwan if there was no independent media and freedom of speech,” Tsai said in Greater Tainan.

The DPP voiced strong opposition to the deal on Monday and is mulling further collaboration with civic groups to block the acquisition.