All Taiwan Next Media buyers and sellers must file reports: FTC

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Next Media Group and all companies participating in the planned takeover of its Taiwan operations must file reports for review, the Fair Trade Commission said Wednesday.
The NT$17.5 billion (US$603 million) deal has provoked widespread fear of tighter control over Taiwan’s media by pro-China business interests and criticism that government commissions were handling the matter too lightly.
The FTC announced Wednesday that all four groups participating in the purchase as well as Next Media itself would have to file the necessary documents within 30 days.
Even though the companies looking to buy the media had now set up separate holding companies listening to names like Global and Lucky Bell, it did not absolve them from the responsibility to file reports in the application for the takeover, the FTC said.
Ever since Next Media founder Jimmy Lai announced late last year he was selling his Taiwanese interests, fears arose that the country’s press freedom was in danger.
The group of buyers includes Tsai Shao-chung, the son of Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng, a tycoon known for his outspoken pro-China views. Critics say that if he takes over Next Media’s Apple Daily and Sharp Daily, he will be in control of at least a 46-percent market share of Taiwan newspapers.
Media activists want the government to block the deal, which has also turned into a major topic for next Sunday’s Democratic Progressive Party protest march against the government of President Ma Ying-jeou.
Lawmakers exchanged accusations Wednesday that they were playing false when proposing legislation to prevent the monopolization of the media.
The DPP has presented amendments to existing television legislation which would add regulations against excessive control, but the ruling Kuomintang says similar laws should also apply to printed media.
The parties have accused each other of inventing new ideas which would slow down the whole process of introducing effective legislation. The National Communications Commission has said it prefers new anti-monopoly laws rather than amendments to existing legislation.
Students have spearheaded protests against the Next Media transaction, saying it imperils Taiwan’s hard-won freedoms and puts too much influence in the hands of pro-Chinese tycoons. A whole range of opinions will no longer be heard by the public if Tsai and his partners are not stopped by the government, the activists said.
Next Magazine and the Apple Daily have a reputation for paparazzi-style reporting and for fierce independence in reporting scandals in politics, business and entertainment. Reporters have expressed the fear that the current style might come to an end if the group changes hands. Activists have demanded the passage of a law safeguarding the independence of editorial departments.