Tycoon lied in CTiTV license renewal case: ex-lawmaker

10/30/2020 10:16 PM
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Tsai Eng-meng (third left), head of Want Want China Times Media Group, attends the NCC hearing Monday. CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020
Tsai Eng-meng (third left), head of Want Want China Times Media Group, attends the NCC hearing Monday. CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020

Taipei, Oct. 30 (CNA) A former lawmaker has posted information suggesting that pro-China business tycoon Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) gave orders to managers of media outlets in Taiwan under his control, contradicting his claim that he has never intervened in editorial decisions.

Former New Power Party lawmaker Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said such orders were evident in seven screenshots he posted on Facebook of conversations Tsai had on WeChat with several high-ranking managers in Tsai's Want Want China Times Media Group, which owns cable news station CTiTV News.

The controversy was triggered by debate over whether to renew the broadcast license of CTiTV, which is known for being critical of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and favorable to China.

The license is set to expire on Dec. 11 and must be renewed by the National Communications Commission.

In September, the DPP called on the NCC to investigate reports of Beijing's interference in CTiTV's operations as it reviewed the network's license renewal, describing the allegations, if true, as a threat to media freedom.

The commission then voted to hold an unprecedented public hearing on Oct. 26 to review CTiTV's license renewal request. The move was assailed by critics as proof that the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) government is looking to close the station, effectively threatening Taiwan's media freedom.

At the NCC hearing, Tsai Eng-meng said he had never intervened in editorial decisions at CTiTV and did nothing more than give suggestions in the WeChat group discussions, which he said were simply used to "communicate" with his employees.

But the screenshots posted by Huang, covering conversations from November 2018 to August 2019, show Tsai giving instructions to the managers on what to focus on in both print and broadcast media.

In his post Huang accused Tsai of lying, and said his "forceful" intervention in news reporting is not just limited to CTiTV but covers the entire Want Want China Times Media Group, which also includes the Chinese-language China Times and Taipei-based China Television Co.

Tsai's "intervention is not limited to exerting influence but involves giving direct orders," Huang said, citing the "Got it" replies from the managers who answered Tsai's comments in the WeChat group.

Huang also criticized that the WeChat exchanges showed that CTiTV managers who described their station in the recent NCC hearing as adhering to "internal self-discipline," "broadcast principles," "independent editing," and "journalistic ethics" sounded "extremely ridiculous" and "shameless."

In a Facebook post Thursday night that responded to Huang's screenshot, Tsai defended the conversations as "normal everyday chats" that were cherry-picked to support accusations that he monopolized news reporting by CTiTV.

In one screenshot from April 2019, he told a manager not to allow then Legislator Lee Yong-ping (李永萍) on the station's political talk show.

"If this chat group had such a big impact on CTiTV, then why did Lee Yong-ping appear on a CTiTV show on May 29," Tsai asked.

Tsai said that like other ordinary citizens, it was normal for him to have his own chat group online and that he had also used it to chat with friends about their expectations that President Tsai runs the country "beyond Blue and Green."

He was referring to the long-fought battle between the opposition Kuomintang (KMT)-led pan-blue alliance and the pan-green camp headed by the DPP.

"Why didn't you use the screenshot" that contained that conversation, asked Tsai, the founder and chairman of the Want Want China Times Media Group.

Tsai voiced suspicions that the screenshots of his remarks in WeChat were publicized just days after 53 percent of respondents in a survey said they did not want to see CTiTV shut down.

"If this is not deliberate suppression, then what is deliberate suppression?" he said.

He was referring to the results of a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation survey released on Oct. 27 that found 52.5 percent of respondents did not want to see CTiTV's license revoked while 32.5 percent did.

At the Oct. 26 hearing, several scholars criticized CTiTV for lacking an internal review mechanism that resulted in biased reporting, while a lawyer representing the cable station argued that fines imposed on CTiTV were politically motivated.

CTiTV has been fined NT$10.73 million (US$375,020) for 21 violations over the past six years for complaints ranging from spreading disinformation to biased reporting, according to the NCC.

During the hearing, several of the seven scholars commissioned by the NCC to review CTiTV's license renewal request cast doubt over the station's ability to conduct self-reviews as it was the news channel that has faced the most NCC fines between 2014 and 2020.

The Want Want Media Group has long been accused of receiving funding from China, where parent company Want Want China Holdings is one of the biggest makers of snack foods and beverages.

Former DPP Secretary General Lo Wen-jia (羅文嘉) cited an undated Apple Daily report that Want Want China Holdings received subsidies from the Chinese government that totaled NT$15.26 billion (US$533.55 million) from 2007 to 2018, reflecting the financial support received for its media operations in Taiwan.

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