Draft media act draws criticism

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE::Journalists said the draft act could hurt diversity in news reporting, while media firms said that monopolization in the nation is a non-issue

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 - Page 3

National Communications Commission (NCC) Chairman Howard Shyr (石世豪) yesterday said the commission encourages TV stations to pursue high ratings by offering quality programs, adding that the act regulating media monopolization would only regulate cross-media mergers.

Shyr made the comments at a public meeting on the commission’s proposed broadcasting media monopolization prevention and diversity preservation act (廣播電視壟斷防制與多元維護法), unveiled last month.

Aside from NCC officials, representatives of media watchdog groups and media firms also attended.

The draft act states the commission would not approve mergers of satellite TV channels if they would cause the viewership rate to exceed 15 percent. Mergers of satellite news channels would be not be approved if they would cause the viewership rate to exceed 5 percent.

If operators of daily newspapers or weekly magazines seek to merge with broadcast media, the draft act states that the deal would be “in danger of creating media-monopolization” if the merger would lead to a viewership rate exceeding 15 percent. If the merger involves news channels, the threshold is lowered to 10 percent.

The proposed act also states that a merger between print and broadcasting media outlets would not be approved if it would produce an audience rate exceeding 20 percent, because the deal would substantially threaten diversity of public opinion. If the deal involves the merger of print media and news channels, the threshold would be dropped to 15 percent.

Regarding mergers of cable TV systems, the influence on public opinion would be weighed by firms who own multiple channels or serve as agents of those channels.

Shyr said the act should ensure that sources of news do not decrease through media integration.

He said that the 15 percent threshold means that the nation would have at least seven different sources of information.

If the threshold is raised to 20 percent, there would be only six sources of information, he said, adding that the threshold is open to further discussion.

Shyr said the commission could use statistics from media research institutions to calculate the yearly average viewership rates.

However, weighing the influence of mergers between multiple channel operators would require a set of formulas, which would be stipulated in the rules of enforcement if the proposed act is passed by the legislature.

Shyr spent about 90 minutes explaining the details of the proposed act, but his presentation drew mixed reactions from attendees.

Association of Taiwan Journalists chairwoman Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) said a 2011 research study conducted by AGB-Nielsen showed that only a small number of channels have yearly average viewership rates exceeding 0.5 percent, so the 15 percent cap means that one company could easily own 30 or more channels. She added that viewership rates of the nation’s news channels is between 0.2 and 0.4 percent, and the aggregate viewership rate would not hit the 5 percent ceiling even if one conglomerate owned all seven news channels in Taiwan.

Chen also said the merger of the Chinese-language dailies Apple Daily and the China Times would not hit the 10 percent ceiling of the act either, so it would allow such a controversial deal to proceed.

Former Taipei City Law and Regulation Commission director Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元), now a lawyer representing China Television Co of the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團), said media monopolization is not an issue in Taiwan because people have many ways to obtain information.

“The problem that the proposed act tries to prevent does not exist,” Yeh said.

“The problem with the media in Taiwan is they are overly competitive. Media firms do not have additional revenue to invest in high-quality programming. The government should allow market forces to determine the existence of media outlets,” Yeh added.

Naomi Lee (李南玫), representing multiple-system operator (MSO) Kbro Co, said the commission should not underestimate the growing influence of online media.

She said MSOs provide a nationwide service and should not be treated as a monopoly. She asked the commission not to overestimate their viewer numbers.

Cable Broadband Institute in Taiwan director-general Peng Shu-fen (彭淑芬) said that the act punishes channels with more viewers.

“Does providing popular programs mean monopoly?” Peng asked. “Mergers happen all the time in business. The commission should focus on the effect of mergers, not the behaviors.”