DPP wants quicker government action on Taiwan Next Media deal

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The opposition Democratic Progressive Party Thursday called on the government to speed up investigations into the origin of the funding behind the takeover of the Next Media Group’s Taiwan operations.
An agreement is expected to be signed before the end of the month selling the operations for NT$17.5 billion (US$600 million) to a group formed by Chinatrust Charity Foundation Chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr., Formosa Plastics Group Chairman Wang Wen-yuan and Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng.
The Financial Supervisory Commission, the Fair Trade Commission and the National Communications Commission have all expressed interest in investigating various aspects of the deal, but the DPP said they had shown little progress. Representatives of the three government bodies faced questioning by legislators Thursday.
The commissions should live up to their responsibilities and investigate where the money funding the deal was coming from and who the ultimate beneficiary would be, DPP legislative whip Pan Men-an said.
DPP lawmaker Tsai Chi-chang compared the Next deal to the British rejection of an attempt by Rupert Murdoch to buy control over the British Sky Broadcasting Group. Taiwan’s government should also vet media managers for their acceptability, he said.
If Next Media Taiwan and the Want Want China Times Group were counted together, their market share widely exceeded the limits warranting an investigation, DPP lawmaker Wu Ping-jui said. Media observers calculated that the China Times and Next’s newspapers the Apple Daily and the Sharp Daily would reach a joint market share of 46 percent. Both groups also include television channels and weekly magazines.
The FTC should invite Koo, Wang and Want Want’s Tsai to tell them they had reached the threshold for a government review, Wu said. If such a move did not happen, the FTC could rely on existing legislation to order the dissolution of the transaction, he added.
DPP lawmaker Yeh Yi-jin said the takeover would not only lead to dominance of the media sector by Tsai, but would also force other groups to cooperate closer as well. She said the country would end up with a far narrower range of opinions in its media than it had been used to until now.
Yeh faulted NCC representatives for defending media companies’ arguments that they were already facing a dire situation because of sliding advertising revenue.
Next Media labor unions and their supporters protested against the potential transaction last weekend. Employees feared for their jobs as well as for the impact of the takeover on freedom of the press in Taiwan and on the group’s image as a fearless reporter of corruption and other scandals.
The potential buyers have all promised to respect the independence of the news staff, but the unions want them to sign a charter guaranteeing their autonomy.
The agreement between Next Media Group founder and chairman Jimmy Lai and the three Taiwanese tycoons was originally scheduled to be signed last Saturday, but the Hong Kong ceremony was postponed until later this month.
The reason for the delay was not clearly stated, but it was generally believed that Koo, Wang and Tsai had been unable to reach an agreement on the division of the shares between them. The FSC complicated the issue just days before the signing by demanding Koo keep his stake below 20 percent because of his close ties to his father’s Chinatrust Financial Holdings. Taiwanese law bars financial groups from investing in media businesses, and the FSC said it wanted Koo to adhere strictly to that rule.