FAPA expresses deep concern about erosion of press freedom in Taiwan

Next Media sale leading to virtual Want Want China Times monopoly

The Washington, D.C.-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs today expresses its deep concern about the erosion of press freedom in Taiwan caused by the takeover of the Next Media (Taiwan) group by a consortium in which pro-PRC magnate Tsai Eng-men has a controlling interest.

Tsai, the Chairman of Want Want Group, is well known for his dismissive towards the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, mostly recently telling the Washington Post in February of 2012 that “not that many people could really have died” during the famous pro-democracy protests in Beijing. Following his 2008 purchase of China Times, many editors and reporters at the Taiwanese daily were reportedly asked to leave their posts—particularly ones who had written stories critical of the PRC government.

In mid-October 2012 Hong Kong-based Next Media announced a preliminary agreement to sell its four Taiwan media outlets—the Apple Daily, the Sharp Daily, Next Magazine and Next TV—to a consortium headed by Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr. However, Taiwan’s Wealth Magazine reported on 7 November 2012 that in fact over half of the purchase money would be coming from Tsai’s Want Want Group, causing a public uproar in Taiwan and prompting legislators, press freedom organizations, and the Democratic Progressive Party to urge the National Communications Commission to block the sale.

In a formal complaint filed on 19 November 2012 to the Executive Yuan (Taiwan’s Cabinet), the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), the Fair Trade Commission, the National Communications Commission (NCC) and the Council for Labor Affairs, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) together with the associated Taiwan News Media Industrial Union raised concerns that the sale could potentially violate laws relating to the separation of finance and industry.

The acquisition of Next Media (Taiwan) by Want Want / China Times would tip the Group’s control over the print news industry to nearly 50%, a degree of concentration that could violate the anti-monopoly and fair competition stipulations of the Fair Trade Law, as well as the three laws regulating wireless television, cable and satellite and the broadcasting and radio industries, according to ATJ’s formal complaint.

In spite of broad public opposition, the deal was finalized on 28 November 2012 for approximately US$ 600 million. The transaction now awaits official approval by Next Media’s shareholders and Taiwan’s media regulators, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Communications Commission (NCC).

In response to the sale, FAPA President Dr. Mark Kao states that “regrettably this development is part of a wider pattern of eroding press freedoms that we have observed, beginning in 2008 when President Ma Ying-jeou came to power. The KMT government’s tendency to accommodate the PRC, at the expense of protecting free expression in Taiwan, is deeply troubling.”

He adds: “The sale puts some 50% of Taiwan’s media outlets in the hands of one single owner, one who has shown a total disregard for editorial independence. Mr. Tsai Eng-men’s Want Want China Times has also been the main vehicle for the creeping influence of pro-PRC interests and opinions in Taiwan, which became very obvious during the January 2012 presidential elections.”

Dr. Kao concludes: “We call on Taiwan’s government and media regulators to disallow the sale, and find a solution that respects media diversity in Taiwan, in keeping with the values of freedom and democracy that we have worked so hard to achieve. We, as Taiwanese-Americans in the United States, will certainly bring this issue to the attention of Congress and the US government.”