Protesters from 12 civic groups yesterday voiced their opposition to an attempt by Want Want China Times Group to acquire China Network Systems, gathering outside the National Communications Committee (NCC) in Taipei while a second public hearing on the deal was being held.
Anti News-buying Association deputy convener Ho Tsung-hsun (何宗勳) said the commission was no longer fit to review the deal after three members with expertise in mass communication, law and economics left the committee, leaving only four members with telecommunication and technical know-how to decide the case.
Ho urged Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) to drop a lawsuit against Internet news source Newtalk Web site reporter Lin Chao-i (林朝億) for reporting that Hsieh had tried to pressure the commission into approving the merger.
Ho said Hsieh’s lawsuit was harmful to freed speech.
The groups also urged the commission to block the merger, saying that its approval could have a chilling effect on the media environment and undermine the diversity of opinion offered to the public.
“No other regulator in the world leans toward corporations as much as the NCC does, so we urge the commission to be independent,” said Lin Lih-yun (林麗雲), director of National Taiwan University’s (NTU) Graduate Institute of Journalism.
During the public hearing, all seven academics invited to attend expressed concerns about or clear opposition to the merger.
Jang Show-ling (鄭秀玲), a professor at NTU’s economics department, said according to the principles and calculation methods of German Commission on Concentration in the Media (KEK), a merger should be blocked when a corporation attempts to control more than 30 percent of intermedia influence.
Intermedia influence should also be accumulated, instead of individually calculated from different media platforms, Jang said, adding that Want Want would influence much more than 30 percent of all media if the merger were approved.
NTU Graduate Institute of Journalism professor Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華) said a Control Yuan investigation concluded that the China Times allowed the Chinese government to place news inserts and Chinese corporations to buy advertisements in its newspaper.
Chang said the China Times had also reduced its reporting on human rights violations in China since a previous merger.
“It’s hard to teach journalism students when they see this kind of media environment, in which news can be bought as advertisements,” she said. “The media should set a good example and gain the trust of its audience.”
The academics urged Want Want China Times Group to be more specific on its promise to improve the quality of its content and maintain free speech in the media.
Chen Ping-hong (陳炳宏), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communications, said that while obeying the law was mandatory, this was not enough to ease public concerns about a lack of content diversity.
Want Want China Broadband chairman Tsai Shao-chung (蔡紹中) has repeatedly said that the object of the merger is the “platform” and not “the media,” and that the network systems are not actual content providers.
He said the merger would be a big step ahead for the industry in terms of digitalization and that Want Want would improve the quality of its content by establishing a better digital media environment so content providers could be confident in investing in high-quality programs.
Tsai said plans to increase the rate of media digitalization in Taiwan have been pushed back because the review of the merger has dragged on for almost 10 months.
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