Taiwan NCC presents anti-media monopoly basics

'Influence' to play key role in judging mergers

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The National Communications Commission on Wednesday presented the basic points of its legislative proposals to prevent too much concentration of power in Taiwan’s media.
Since Hong Kong-based Next Media Group announced last October it was going to sell its Taiwan publications and television concerns to a group of local tycoons for NT$17.5 billion (US$592 million), a string of protests have demanded tougher government action.
The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou promised it would follow the law in reviewing the Next transaction, but critics have accused it of dragging its feet because the tycoons buying the media were mostly supporters of his China policies. Last month, his Kuomintang barred moves by the opposition to add anti-monopoly clauses to existing legislation, saying it was better if the NCC came up with completely new laws.
NCC Chairman Howard Shyr said Wednesday that under its legislative proposal, television owners who planned to venture into other media sectors would have to report their plans to the media body. Influence would become a key factor in rating and allowing or banning mergers, with deals involving media rated as more influential being subject to more stringent reviews, reports said.
The proposal also included an ‘absolute red line’ beyond which further mergers would be completely impossible, Shyr said. The NCC would also conduct regular reviews of viewing and reading figures and publish an annual report.
He presented the basic spirit of the NCC proposal as the protection of a competitive environment for information and opinions, and safeguards for the strengthening of media professionalism and independence.
Shyr said the NCC would reveal more details of the proposed legislation after the Lunar New Year holiday. A full version would be submitted to the Legislative Yuan in June, he said.
Most of the concern about the Next deal has focused on the role of Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng. The owner of several prominent newspapers and TV stations has been known for his outspoken pro-China views and for not refraining from influencing reports in his media, critics said.
In order to calm unease about his role, he reportedly had his son replace him in the group of tycoons wanting to buy the Next Media properties, while staying out of the planned takeover of Next TV.
If the NCC and other government bodies such as the Fair Trade Commission approved the Next takeover, Tsai might control 46 percent of Taiwan’s newspaper market.
Students and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party have been at the forefront of action against the Next deal, saying it will threaten hard-won freedoms and provide China with a growing opportunity to influence media reporting in Taiwan.