Next TV employees yesterday expressed support for the sale of the network to ERA Communications chairman Lien Tai-sheng (練台生) and urged the National Communications Commission (NCC) to speed up its review of the sale and issue a ruling.
Lien officially took over operation of Next TV on June 1 after acquiring the network from Hong Kong-based Next Media for NT$1.4 billion (US$46 million).
The commission held a public hearing on the sale yesterday because the transaction involves the acquisition of a news channel, the influence of cable TV operators and other important issues. It said it wanted to hear from the two main stakeholders in the deal, media experts and representatives of civic groups and media associations.
Cheng Yi-ping (鄭一平), chairman of the Next TV Workers’ Union, told the hearing that a majority of employees supported the sale because both the seller and the buyer had shown goodwill toward them, giving generous severance pay and respecting their career choices.
He said Lien had also promised to negotiate with the union on salaries and benefits after the commission approves the transfer of ownership.
Cheng raised the question of why Next TV could only be viewed on cable channels recently, considering that it was formed four years ago.
“Is it because our programs are not good enough or our reporters slack off? We would admit it if that was true, but it is not,” he said.
He urged the commission to quickly rule on the sale, whether it decides to approve it or not.
Cheng said that as a journalist, he believes that the media should safeguard social justice and oversee the operation of the government.
“However, as the old saying goes: ‘You can only know honor and humiliation when you have clothes to wear and food to eat,’” Cheng said. “A majority of reporters are underpaid and are constantly asked to work overtime. How can you expect them to fulfill their social responsibilities, oversee the government and have the courage to break scandals?”
Next TV general manager Chen Shou-kuo (陳守國) said Lien was eyeing Next TV’s talented staff and high-definition broadcasting equipment when he decided to buy the network, which has been losing NT$100 million (US$3.33 million) a month.
The new management has sought to consolidate personnel and management from ERA and Next TV and tried to have Next TV included in cable services nationwide, he said.
However, one-third of the employees in Next TV’s news department chose to leave after ERA took over, he said.
Next TV’s ratings have not risen significantly since it was moved to Channel 45, Chen said. Only 60 percent of cable subscribers are able to watch Next TV because the cable systems owned by Kbro have yet to include the channel in their service, he added.
Chen promised that ERA and Next TV’s news departments would remain separate.
He also described the competition between the cable systems owned by Lien and those owned by other operators as that “between a mom-and-pop store and a convenience store chain.”
Lien’s cable systems on the east coast, he said, have fewer than 1 million subscribers and only account for about 1.9 percent of the market. His acquisition of Next TV would not lead to monopolization of the media nor create a “media monster,” Chen said.
Chen said Lien would still pay NT$1.4 billion to buy Next TV even if the commission vetoed the deal.
Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜), chairwoman of the Association of Taiwan Journalists, said the commission should wait for the legislature to pass the proposed legislation against monopolization of the media before it starts to review the sale.
“The program rerun rates on ERA TV network channels are very high. This shows that the acquisition will not bring any diversity to Next TV’s programming,” she said.