Liberty Times: In the signature drive opposing the merger of CNS with the Want Want Group, we see you are especially concerned with the issue of “Chinese advertorials” in the [Chinese-language] ‘China Times.’ Why is that?
Flora Chang (張錦華): Control Yuan member Frank Wu (吳豐山) in November last year made an investigation that confirmed that China’s advertorials [in the China Times] were in violation of legal regulations, and subsequently notified the Mainland Affairs Council of their illegality.
Article 34 of the Act Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the People of the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) and Article 6 of the Act on Management of Promotion of Goods and Services from Mainland China in Taiwan (大陸地區物品勞務服務在臺灣地區從事廣告活動管理辦法) stipulate that unless approved beforehand, advertisements from China are prohibited.
Photo: Wang Yi-sung, Taipei Times
The Control Yuan also discovered that the China Times also acted as a middleman, helping Chinese authorities purchase news coverage in the [Chinese-language] United Daily News.
So not only has the Want Want China Times Group failed to meet professional standards, it is also influencing other media and corrupting media independence, which is a very serious matter.
News must be independent and objective to win the trust of the public, and the wide readership [of news] in a democratic society depends on the belief that the news is reporting the truth, that news is not advertisements; that is where the line of professionalism is drawn, and the intangible social contract the free independent media has [with society]. Once this trust is destroyed, it damages the media’s image and the oversight role the media plays in a democratic society.
The Chinese government’s buying of news in Taiwan also leads to another serious problem. Since the Taiwanese government also has a record of buying news, the resignation of China Times veteran reporter Dennis Huang (黃哲斌), which led to a mass petition [on behalf of reporters and professors to stop the practice of advertorials], led to the passage of amendments to the Budget Act (預算法) this January clearly prohibiting any advertorials by the government on the grounds that the practice uses taxpayers’ money to deceive taxpayers via subtle propaganda.
However, it is even a weirder case for the Chinese government to place advertorials in Taiwan. Though there have been improvements in cross-strait relations, there is still the problem of national security, as we can see from the recent incidents with Chinese spies.
China is an autocratic one-party regime with no system of [civilian] oversight, nor is there an independent judiciary. The role of the [Chinese] media is to be the mouthpiece of the government, [with] seriously limited press and speech freedom. Therefore, the Chinese government’s placing of advertorials in Taiwanese press is a method of using Taiwanese media as their mouthpieces and promote Chinese governmental ideology and manipulating Taiwan’s press reportage.
How can the readers [of the papers] receive complete and factual information [with such reports]? This is a form of infringing on the readers’ right to know.
Looking at the coverage embedded in the China Times, it is all about how China’s development is thriving, for the purpose of attracting investors and tourists, and it is in fact advertising. The sources cited are all from Chinese secretaries or provincial governors who are members of the Chinese Communist Party, and there are no other sources to balance the report.
No mention is made of oppressions of human rights, corruption, environmental pollution and religious oppression.
This is of course very disadvantageous for the [news] readers of Taiwan.
Wu’s investigations showed that such advertorials are extremely murky. If even news can be sold, what else has been sold? This kind of murky political and corporate manipulation is especially worrisome in light of cross-strait relations.
The inclinations of Want Want are like the basic principles of Chinese propaganda toward Taiwan — entering the country, entering the family, entering the mind and what is called the economic siege.
The China Times always covers Chinese government officials leading business delegations to Taiwan, saying how these officials are connected to Taiwanese by blood and kinship, how they love Taiwan. All are presented in positive light, obviously aimed at winning over Taiwanese.
However, the China Times does not have other kind of reports or commentaries scrutinizing these business delegation and officials to balance the positive reports, and they do not report on the protests held in the areas where the officials visit.
They obviously cannot fulfill the responsibility of the media to make balanced reports, and have simply become a mouthpiece [for China.]
The reason why this matters is because the core question for the review of any buyout is whether the buyout is beneficial to the public. Whether the corporation itself can be trusted and maintain balanced coverage, and whether the density of media concentration would impact on the plurality of speech are all questions that must also be carefully reviewed.
If we see that after Want Want’s buyout of CtiTV, China Times and China Television (CTV) that the press has lost independence, then would not independence of the press be under greater threat if Want Want bought out other media corporations, or even a system network?
LT: Concerning the concentration of media ownership, are there any examples in other countries? Can current domestic legal regulations effectively rein it in?
Chang: Concerning the problem of concentration of ownership, regulations in other countries for such cases focus on the process. Some buyouts of large-scale media corporations would have a deep and far-reaching impact, and gathering data requires some time, including the process of how to gather the data, how to make it more transparent, acceptance of civilian oversight and the providing of data. Usually the whole process takes more than a year.
In the case of Want Want, although the NCC did hold public hearings on the issue, aside from inviting some academics to give reports, did the NCC actively gather, investigate and analyze the necessary data?
For example, what is the relationship between China and Want Want? Why is the corporation’s Mainland Center director also its Beijing branch’s sale department director, and how will that influence the independence of the press? What is the influence of Taiwan’s network systems on [TV] channels?
The authorities in charge should also be responsible for investigating and submitting credible statistics and proofs, and not just holding one
or two public hearings.
Taking the US as an example, although there have been demands [for the US government] to remove restrictions, buyouts are still reviewed with strict standards.
The original regulations stated that a media corporation couldn’t both have press and TV news in one market, for example, and even in this era when rules are more relaxed, if a print media outlet wishes to merge with a TV company, the TV company cannot be within the top four companies in terms of market share. The rules also said that if such a buyout goes ahead, eight other media channels must also exist.
Even in a developed country such as the US, with its individualism, political diversity and professional media, plurality of speech is still protected with strict standards.
To view the Want Want Group case with that standard, the fact is that the Want Want Group is already the largest cross-media corporation before the buyout, holding the China Times newspaper and magazines, the CtiTV corporation and its network, as well as some shares in the Eastern Multimedia Group owned by Gary Wang (王令麟).
If it were in the US, it would have already exceeded limits to concentration of ownership, not to mention that Want Want now is about to buy out another 11 channels of cable TV.
The corporation might say that they are buying out the corporation, not the channels themselves, and that the contents of the channels would not be affected.
However, this sort of argument is problematic.
In interviews with cable TV channel owners, they all told me privately that they do not wish to comment on the issue to protect their interests.
Their independence of speech is apparently already being affected and they are already imposing self-censorship. From this, we can see whether the network systems have any influence.
Hong Kong’s example is also cause for reflection. Investigations conducted by several media have found that after Hong Kong was returned to China, under the influence of political and economic forces, about 70 percent of reporters agreed that they would practice self-censorship.
In the past few years, the press freedom of the Hong Kong media has already fallen in many international evaluations, and is no longer the completely liberal area it once was.
According to reports, 90 percent of Want Want Group chairman Tsai Eng-ming’s (蔡衍明) profits came from China. How closely is his media corporation connected with China? Is it still possible to maintain the independence of Taiwanese media? How would the NCC explain to the Taiwanese people the interconnected political and economical profits? All of these are serious challenges.
The NCC has dealt with some major merger and buyout cases, but it still has not established a standard for reviews and relevant laws. However, in some of those cases, such as the buy-out of CTV, CtiTV and Dafu Media (大富媒體), the NCC did reference some international trends and regulations in the process of its reviews and established a framework for dealing with such cases.
In the Dafu Media case, the NCC required that [Dafu Media owner] Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) promise there would an equal system for judging content, and not to give preferential treatment to selected channels. The NCC also ruled that Daniel Tsai could not buy the financial channel, could not apply to set up a news channel and could not expand his company’s three shopping channels.
By this standard, the buyout of NCS by Want Want Corporation is out of the question, because the corporation already has a multitude of channels.
The case should therefore not even be reviewed because it has already violated the aforementioned principles.
Why does the NCC continue to review the case? Isn’t that wasting public resources?
Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer
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