Want Want China Times Group Chairman Tsai Eng-meng showed up unexpectedly at a public hearing Monday over the group's proposed acquisition of a major cable network, sparking heated debate among academics.
The group's proposal to acquire cable TV services owned by China Network System (CNS) has local academics worried that the bid will result in media being concentrated in too few hands and will undermine press freedom.
Tsai's close business connections with mainland China is another major reason the academics are opposed to the bid. Many of them are worried Tsai will impose a pro-China agenda on his media properties.
In a story published by the Washington Post Jan. 21 this year, Tsai was quoted as saying that journalists working for him "need to think carefully before they write" and avoid "insults" that cause offense.
He was referring to an incident in which he fired an editor for an article that described China's top negotiator with Taiwan as "third-rate."
The public hearing saw Tsai vigorously defend the group's stance in the acquisition bid, saying he has "never received any money from China, and has never attended any meetings of the Communist Party of China."
The hearing, which lasted for nine hours, was the longest meeting ever held by the National Communications Commission (NCC), the country's top media watchdog.
Following are excerpts of reports by major Taiwanese newspapers on Monday's hearing.
United Daily News:
Tsai said at the hearing that he was businessman generally welcomed by the media before purchasing the three Cs -- CtiTV, a cable TV network; China Times, a Chinese-language newspaper; and China Television Co., a terrestrial television network.
He said that ever since he purchased those media outlets, he has become a target of criticism. He said he has even considered suing other media that have carried unfair comments about him, but has refrained from doing so because his staff advised him against it.
Tsai also rebutted public speculation about him having close connections with China's Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits.
He said he has only met with Chen twice -- one time over a mere handshake, and the second time when he had already acquired the "three Cs."
Gary Wang, a former president of Eastern Multimedia Group, who owns 49 percent of the shares of Want Want China Braodband, told reporters after the hearing that the NCC should not stall the group's bid simply because academics oppose it.
Wang expressed hope that the NCC will speed up the review process or the group will lose its bidding deposit of more than NT$1 billion (US$34 million).
However, Lin Li-yun, director of National Taiwan University's School of Journalism, said the NCC should reject the bid to safeguard the freedom of the press.
Lin Hui-lin, an economics professor at National Taiwan University, said that if the bid is approved it will cause too much media to be concentrated in too few hands.
Also opposing the bid, Huang Kuo-chang, an Academia Sinica assistant research fellow, said that since February this year, Tsai's media properties have blatantly imposed their own agenda on readers and viewers, while other cable TV networks have been "eerily quiet" on reporting the acquisition matter.
Huang said the cable TV networks' reluctance to report on the issue might spring from fear of retribution from the group, as it will have the authority to shut down TV networks carried on its system should the bid be approved.
Karen Wang, general manager of Next Media's television operations, accused Tsai's group of intervening with the operations of CNS.
Wang said at the hearing that management at Next Media had already struck a deal with CNS in October 2011 to carry its news and movie channels on CNS' channels 84 and 85.
But Next Media was informed earlier this year that the deal was off because a new shareholder due to join the system had rejected the deal, Wang said.
Ingo Brinker, a partner at Gleizz Lutz law firm, who was invited by CNS to attend the hearing, said that if the group's acquisition of CNS is approved, the level of media concentration of the group will be around 23 percent, according to a benchmark index designed to gauge media concentration by the KEF, an independent Germany-based media watchdog.
The 23 percent is far lower than the KEF's 30 percent benchmark threshold, he said, noting that the bid would be passed if it was proposed in Germany. (May 8, 2012).
(By Ann Chen)