Tycoon to defend EBC TV network deal on Tuesday

‘TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE’::Tycoon Chang Kao-hsiang has said his company would improve the EBC TV network’s international news coverage and not fire any employee

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 4

Property development tycoon Chang Kao-hsiang (張高祥) is to give specific details on his business plan for Eastern Broadcasting Co (EBC), which he acquired at the end of last year, in an administrative hearing on Tuesday next week.

The cable TV network owns several channels, including EBC Variety, EBC News, EBC Financial News, EBC Drama, EBC Movie, EBC Foreign Movie, EBC Yoyo, EBC America and EBC Asia. It also owns five home-shopping channels.

Chang, who owns Mao Te International Investment Co, acquired ownership of EBC by buying stakes from its two previously largest shareholders, Eastern Media International and the Carlyle Group, the National Communications Commission (NCC) said, adding that the transactions together cost approximately NT$12.3 billion (US$415.5 million).

Once approved, the deal would give Mao Te 94.1 percent of the shares in EBC, the commission said.

The commission last week held a public hearing on the acquisition, at which it solicited views from media experts, representatives of various associations and government agencies, and other interested parties.

Based on a list of questions listed on the NCC Web site, Chang and his team would have to explain how he plans to fund the operations of the cable TV networks, and whether the deal would lead to further concentration of media ownership and a reduction in media diversity.

As the transaction involves a sale of news channels, the new management must explain how it would continue to uphold the independence of the broadcast news channels after the ownership change and whether it can ensure that political and economic factors will not interfere with the process of news production.

As Chang is deeply involved in real estate, the commission wants to know how the new management intends to maintain objective and balanced coverage of the real-estate industry and other affairs that could affect EBC in its news programs and talk shows.

The network’s plans to raise the ratio and quality of international news coverage are also to be discussed at the administrative hearing.

Meanwhile, the new management must demonstrate that it has detailed and viable plans to increase the percentage of programs produced and funded by the network itself, and how it plans to realize its promise to develop high-definition or ultra-high-definition programs.

It should inform the commission whether it has plans to produce over-the-top (OTT) content or to develop other similar projects in the near future.

The team must also explain what it would do to protect workers currently employed by EBC, according to the list.

NCC commissioners still have many doubts over the deal, NCC spokesman Weng Po-tsung (翁柏宗) said, adding that Mao Te has been asked to provide more information on how it plans to uphold journalistic independence, increase the percentage of international news coverage, execute its financial plan and protect workers.

“Personally, I am more concerned about what the company would do with the workers currently employed by EBC,” he said.

Chang painted a rosy picture when describing his vision for EBC in the public hearing on Thursday last week.

Not only did he say that he would not lay off any employee, he said he would recruit more talented people to the network.

He also promised that none of Mao Te’s shareholders would serve on the EBC’s board and that all news channels in the network would be allowed to operate independently.

His plan to improve international news coverage also entails sending reporters to visit and learn at international media headquarters and increasing the budget for reporters to cover news happening overseas.

To diversify news programs, the network would also increase coverage of non-governmental organizations, Chang said.

He said he is committed to spending at least NT$100 million each year to produce programs and shore up ECB’s development of digital content.

Revenue generated from ECB’s digital platforms should rise from 4 percent to 15 percent, Chang said.

Chang’s answers to questions raised by the NCC were met with suspicion by National Taiwan Normal University professor Chen Ping-hung (陳炳宏), who said the business plan is simply “too good to be true.”

EBC has topped the list of cable TV networks that have received the most fines from the NCC for violations of media regulations, Chen said.

Of all TV networks, EBC has the worst record on product placement in news broadcasts, he said.

Mao Te should pledge to stop the network from using news to promote services and goods, Chen said.