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Want Want boss defends self at public hearing on controversial deal

2012/05/07 20:49:45

Taipei, May 7 (CNA) Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng appeared unexpectedly at a public hearing on the group's proposed acquisition of a major cable network, saying that he wanted to prove that he "loves Taiwan" and that he had never taken a dime from China.

The hearing was the latest held by the National Communications Commission (NCC) on whether it should allow Want Want subsidiary Want Want China Broadband to purchase 10 cable service providers owned by Taiwan-based China Network Systems.

Critics feel the acquisition would give the Want Want Group, which is seen as friendly to China, a stranglehold over the local media.

Tsai had originally declined an invitation to appear at the hearing, worried that it would turn into a "public trial" of him, but he showed up 10 minutes before it began to defend himself and the NT$76 billion (US$2.59 billion) deal.

He said he was "very happy" before reaching the deal and said it was motivated simply by the belief that he "could make money" on it.

Tsai, who made his fortune by selling food products in China, dismissed misgivings that Chinese funds were involved in the deal.

He said that although he has business in China, he has never attended conferences there, had not taken a dime from the Chinese government, and did not have close connections with Chinese officials.

Tsai also asked that he be allowed to answer questions from those on hand who opposed the acquisitions to allay any misgivings and to prove whether he "loves Taiwan or not," but the request was turned down by NCC Chairwoman Su Heng.

Nine scholars spoke at Monday's public hearing, with those favoring the deal stressing that the government should act according to the law and not ignore the fact that television was not as influential as it has been in the past.

Those opposed to the deal said that it would result in the monopolization of opinion by a "cross-media monster."

The deal was sent to the NCC for review in December 2010, but little progress has been made because of the controversy over the potential for the Want Want Group to turn into a media Godzilla, and the group's frequent acceptance of advertising disguised as news from the Chinese government.

Tsai has also been criticized for comments made in an interview with the Washington Post in which he said he did not believe the reports of a massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989 were true and that "unification with China is going to happen sooner or later," whether people like it or not.

Claiming his words had been "severely twisted," Tsai later issued a public statement saying he was willing to apologize to the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre if his comments offended them.

When Tsai was first asked in mid-April to attend Monday's hearing, Want Want China Broadband said it had done nothing illegal and that the NCC should pledge to make a final decision on the case two weeks after the public hearing.

The broadcasting regulator refused to make such a commitment, and Tsai said before Monday's hearing through his special assistant, Chao Yu-pei, that he would not attend, calling many of the accusations leveled against him unfounded and unfair.

He said he had chosen not to attend to avoid "blurring the focus" of the hearing and said shareholders disapproved of him showing up, but in the end Tsai decided to accept what he described as an "ideological screening."

(By Hsu Ya-chu and Lilian Wu)
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