DPP asks for Next Media probe

FREE SPEECH::Lee Kun-tse said journalistic autonomy has often been sacrificed in media deals and the NCC had failed to assert the importance of journalistic independence

By Chris Wang and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter and staff writer, with CNA

Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - Page 3

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday urged government agencies to launch a probe into the source of funding and the final beneficiary of the sale of Next Media Group’s Taiwanese outlets.

The Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the National Communications Commission (NCC) and the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) should all shoulder their respective responsibility to ensure the deal does not jeopardize freedom of speech, DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) told a press conference.

If the consortium comprised of Want Want China Times Group chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) and Formosa Plastics Group chairman William Wong (王文淵) buys Next Media Group, DPP lawmaker Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) said, the combination of Want Want China Times Group and Next Media Group would surpass the maximum one-third of total market share and violate the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法).

Citing the case of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to acquire the British Sky Broadcasting Group in the UK, DPP Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said Murdoch went through a series of strict reviews of his qualifications, but saw the deal rejected because it was not in the public interest.

“The qualifications of media outlet owners should also be scrutinized in Taiwan,” Tsai said.

DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said journalistic autonomy and labor rights have often been sacrificed in recent media deals in Taiwan and the NCC had failed to assert the importance of safeguarding journalistic independence in its reviews of the cases.

Lee urged the NCC to be the “last line of defense” on reviews of media merger cases by protecting media employees’ right to work and journalistic autonomy.

Officials from the NCC, the FTC, the FSC and the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission were invited to report on the risks of media monopolization to a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday.

FTC member Sun Li-chun (孫立群) said that it was still uncertain who or which company would acquire Next Media Group’s media outlets in Taiwan, adding that the FTC already has a substantial understanding of the proposed deal.

Sun said the FTC is planning a seminar to examine the impact of the purchase on the market, the actual market share each media outlet would have and to discuss whether to separate print and digital media.

The FTC is tasked with the decentralization of the market, as well as setting limits on competition, but it is not really the FTC’s task to consider how singular the media industry has become, Su said.

It is a very controversial issue as to whether or not to consider “centralization” with regard to the deal, but whatever the decision it is the FTC’s desire and hope to maintain the competitive edge of the print media, Sun said.

As the sale has not yet been finalized, the FTC can only prepare for possible outcomes, Sun said.

NCC Chairman Howard Shyr (石世豪) said that if print media were all in the hands of one individual, there would be a severe impact on freedom of speech.

The NCC is more inclined to include horizontal and vertical cross-media mergers or ownership into its policies, Shyr said.

He added that the NCC would also emulate other nations in estimating the potential influence on the dynamism of free speech of each individual group or media company.

We will consider how collectivized a media company is and its integration with other media, Shyr said, adding that hopefully the NCC would be able to establish a long-lasting and stable system.