The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) is scheduled to hold a symposium on Thursday to solicit opinions from all sectors of society on media acquisitions. The event comes amid growing public concern over the much-scrutinized sale of Taiwanese media outlets of Hong Kong-listed Next Media Group to a consortium that many believe could jeopardize the nation’s media diversity and freedom of the press.
“The commission is planning to hold a forum on Thursday to seek opinions from all walks of life on all cases pertaining to media acquisitions and social media market share,” FTC spokesmen Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said yesterday, adding that a public hearing over the Next Media buyout would also be held in due course after involved parties filed a merger report with the commission.
The commission is also due to deliver a report to the legislature’s Economics Committee tomorrow on the pending deal involving Next Media Ltd, which has agreed to sell its Taiwanese businesses to Formosa Plastics Group chairman William Wong (王文淵), Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffery 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).
The deal includes the sale of Taiwan’s Chinese-language Apple Daily, Sharp Daily, Next Magazine and Next TV.
The deal has raised public concern since Hong Kong media baron Jimmy Lai (黎智英), founder of Next Media, revealed his plan to sell his four outlets in Taiwan last month.
Tsai’s role in the deal is particularly sensitive and controversial given his group’s ownership over many major media outlets in Taiwan, including the Chinese-language China Times.
Lai had said in an interview with the Apple Daily on Oct. 18 that he decided to finalize the sale only after ensuring that none of the funding would come from Tsai. Tsai’s appearance at a recent meeting between Next Media Group officials and representatives from Koo’s consortium held to finalize the deal startled the public.
Tsai’s involvement has since given rise to a series of protests, not only by several journalistic organizations, but also by indignant journalists from the unions of Apple Daily and Hong Kong’s Next Media Union, who fret about possible infringement on their newsroom autonomy.
According to an FTC report to the legislature, because involved buyers are still in the midst of negotiation over their investment proportions and regulations, it remains to be seen whether the joint acquisition falls within the framework of “merger” as stipulated by the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法).
“The pending deal is bound by law, provided that it falls within the definition of a merger under the acts as a merger, be filed with the commission,” the report said, adding that it would also notify concerned parties to tender such a report once the roster of business entities involved in the buyout is finalized.
Citing the Fair Trade Act, the report said that an application for merger should be approved “if the overall economic benefits outweigh the disadvantages resulting from competition restraint.”
The commission said it respected the jurisdictions of various government agencies to tackle the possible impacts of a cross-media merger, such as journalistic autonomy and media concentration.