National Communications Commission (NCC) Chairperson Howard Shyr (石世豪) yesterday denied that the proposed media anti-monopolization act was designed to protect specific media groups, adding that it was not meant to replace the abolished Publication Act (出版法).
Shyr’s statement came after Want Want China Times Group published a full-page advertisement on page one of the Chinese-language China Times, which is part of the Want China Times Group, alleging that the proposed legislation favors large media groups such as Liberty Times Group (owner of the Taipei Times) and Fubon Group.
The ad said the proposed act was aimed at preventing Want Want China Times from acquiring the cable TV systems owned by China Network Systems or investing in Next Media Group.
“The act was produced under false pretenses,” Want Want said in the ad. “It expands the authority of the National Communications Commission and intends to ‘restore’ the Publication Act, which would allow the government to oppress and restrict freedom of speech.”
Want Want said the proposed act, if passed, should be applied retrospectively, adding that it should also ban financial groups from investing in media outlets and apply to broadcasting media, as well as telecoms and Internet service providers.
Shyr said the commission had not tailored the proposed act to fit the needs of any specific groups.
Nor was the version of the act that has passed preliminary review at the legislature designed to target any group or allow any group to evade its responsibility to follow regulations, he said.
“There are different ways to express opinions, but rarely do I see a media group publishing its opinions using such a large font. The phenomenon has appeared in all the newspapers in this media group,” Shyr said.
“We respect different opinions, but we believe that the newspapers should act as watchmen for the public. At least that is what I taught my journalism students,” he said.
Shyr said there was no intent to resurrect the Publication Act, adding that he took issue with Want Want’s use of the word “restoring” (復辟) in expressing its opinion.
“Restoring is generally used when you describe the restoration of a dethroned monarch. It is not used to describe the resurrection of a law,” he said.
“The proposed act only focuses on the regulation of national newspapers, particularly when they are integrated with one another,” the commission chairman said.
“The regulations in the [proposed] act would not affect them [Want Want] if they were not involved in any newspaper integration,” he said.
The act does not add new regulations to the obligation of print media to make corrections and replies, Shyr said.
He said there was a need for legislation to regulate integrations of media outlets. Similar legislation already exists in other democracies, he said, and there is an urgent need to establish such a system in Taiwan.
While the version of the proposed act passed at the Legislative Yuan last month set clear restrictions on integration among certain types of media outlets and on the financial institutions investing in media outlets, Shyr said the commission may have problems using market share to regulate mergers of media outlets.
“The market share of a media outlet changes constantly, even daily” he said.
“Maybe a media outlet did not hit the market share ceiling in the [proposed] act when it plans a merger with another media outlet, but what if it hits the ceiling after the merger? Can an investor fully know in advance what the market share is? This might be difficult,” he said.
The commission wants both investors and media outlets to know in advance what lines they may not cross, with no confusion, he said.
The key to this is ensuring that information about media outlets must be transparent and open to the public, Shyr said.