Friday, July 27, 2012

WantWant Creates Pro-China Media Monster

Hitting the seafood restaurants near the red light district in Keelung

Huge news as pro-China tycoon Robert Tsai of the WantWant Group seems set to dominate Taiwan's media markets:

The KMT news organ:
The National Communications Commission (NCC) yesterday approved, with a record large number of conditions, an acquisition bid by Want Want China Broadband (旺中寬頻), which is affiliated with the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團), to buy up eleven cable TV service providers owned by the China Network Service (CNS/中嘉網路), the country’s second-largest multiple-system operator, after 18 months of delays. The Want Want China Group is expected to pay NT$ 76 billion to CNS to become the largest media group in Taiwan.


Yesterday, NCC chairperson Su Herng (蘇蘅) and three NCC members held a press conference to explain the NCC’s decision. Some scholars and cable services providers voiced their opposition out of concern that the acquisition would limit speech and lead to a media monopoly, so they cast doubts on whether or not the affixed conditions would be able to restrict the Want Want China Times Group from becoming a media hegemon. NCC chairperson Su repeated twice, “These conditions can prevent that.”
AP has a longer report:
The decision comes as other cable stations on the island weigh the advantages of silencing anti-China commentators to help them sell Chinese language programming to the lucrative China market. In one potentially far reaching move, an outlet normally known for its pro-independence, anti-China sentiment recently pulled the plug on a popular talk show with a reputation for unrestrained China bashing. Critics said the decision reflected the outlet’s bid to try to sell Chinese-language soap operas on the mainland for many times the revenue it earned on the talk show.

With six round-the-clock cable TV news stations and three brashly partisan national newspapers — one owned by the China Times Group — media independence is a big issue on this island of 23 million people, particularly as it seeks to maintain its de facto political independence in the face of an unstinting Chinese bid to bring it under its control 63 years after the sides split in a civil war. Critics say the battle is already being lost, though Wednesday’s NCC decision suggests that such a conclusion may be premature.
AP's report has some really good reporting at the end of the story, on page 2, on how local TV stations are going soft on China reporting to in order to sell their own products in China. But then AP goes soft itself -- FT had the courage to call Tsai "pro-China" in its headline, while AP says he is "China-friendly" but then terms an opposition TV show "anti-China." It's a small point, but telling... FT's report was good and had a quote from Ketty Chen, one of my favorite analysts of local politics.
“People are extremely uncomfortable to the point of being angry at him, knowing that he has a pro-China stance and that he has publicly advocated that Taiwan be part of China,” said Ketty Chen, a political scientist at National Taiwan University. “That’s the main reason why people don’t want him to become the Rupert Murdoch of Taiwan.”
The AP's bog-standard Establishment view really came through in its comments about the National Communications Commission (NCC). To wit:
By putting strict conditions on CTG’s China Network systems acquisition, the NCC appeared to acknowledge these criticisms, while trying to forestall the emergence of a single dominant media group in Taiwan.

But the NCC can only do so much to maintain the independence of Taiwan’s media.
AP here treats the NCC as if it were a real regulatory body which is really trying to protect media freedom and the market. But of course, that is nonsense. The NCC was created in 2006 by the KMT-controlled legislature with the express purpose of getting around the DPP's control of media oversight and keep media organs reined in within KMT-established boundaries. It is difficult for me to regard the NCC as anything but a KMT tool. From an old post on the topic from a moment when the NCC showed a tiny bit of independence that the Ma Administration then moved to curb:
The irony of the move against the NCC is that the NCC was created under the Chen Administration in 2006 by the KMT controlled legislature to bring mass media under the control of the government. The Executive Branch, then controlled by the DPP, argued that it should have the authority to appoint NCC commission members, but the legislature clearly intended that it would have the last word on who the commission members were. Since the legislature was controlled by the KMT and its allies, the intent of the law was obvious: it was a legislative end-run around the DPP controlled executive branch intended to restore KMT control over the media and chill pro-Taiwan speech by centralizing control of the media oversight in KMT hands.
The NCC commissioner make-up reflects party share of the legislature -- with the KMT dominant in the legislature, the NCC is dominated by the KMT. For a taste of the NCC and other media issue, see this article from last year on claims that the NCC was being pressured to approve the merger, this one on PTS, and this one on the NextMedia case and the NCC.

The Taipei Times gave a taste of that in its article on the merger:
Lin said the party condemned the commission’s opaque, closed-door review of the merger application and demanded full disclosure of all records and video recordings of the meeting.

While the deal was neither legitimate nor urgent, it was hastily approved with one week left before the terms of the four remaining NCC commissioners ended, he said.
Recall that two Decembers ago Next Media mogul Jimmy Lai applied for new cable TV licenses in Taiwan.  Lai is disliked by Beijing. In a piece in WSJ he criticized the Administration and the NCC, observing:
We are not the only media company affected; the government of President Ma Ying-jeou has undertaken several initiatives to restrain the previously vibrant Taiwanese press. As the majority owner of Next Media, I have a strong vested interest in this particular case. However, I believe that anyone who values the free flow of information—not to mention the future of a free Taiwan—should be concerned.

In delivering its decision, Taiwan's National Communications Commission cited concerns that we might not be able to satisfy various regulations, and that we might try to circumvent existing program-rating restrictions. Most ominously of all, the NCC said it could not be sure that Next Media would "fulfill its social responsibilies as a mass media operator." These are all shockingly subjective rationales. Instead of dealing with the facts and merits of our application, the NCC is punishing us on the basis of what we might do.


Here it helps to remember that though the NCC is an ostensibly "neutral" body, its members are nonetheless nominated in proportion to the number of seats of political parties held in the legislature. Today the KMT has an overwhelming majority in Taiwan's legislature and holds the presidency. So one has to wonder whether the quality of reporting in Taiwan is really the driving concern here. The NCC would not undertake actions that endanger press freedom and the reputation of Taiwan if President Ma and the ruling KMT did not back their actions.
Lai attemped to purchase the China Times group, which was eventually sold to....Robert Tsai and the WantWant Group.

As I always say, the closer we get to China, the farther Taiwan moves from democracy. Growing dominance of the media by a rabidly pro-China billionaire won't be good for any aspect of Taiwan's public life.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Kungwan said...

Want China Times group is using it's media engine to smear dissenting academics:

China Times Spin here-

Full Dr. Huang interview here-

Taiwan Journalists Association's condemnation of China Times Group-

les said...

I think a big problem here is that the average person knows what utter slime the average reporter / editor / media owner is. Who is going to care about their whining about loss of media freedoms when few believe those whining have any integrity?

We will shortly be right back to the situation that existed during one-party rule with the GIO making sure all media outlets parrot the party line. Except this time it will be largely the CCP line...