Taiwan regulators, feet to the fire, talk tough on China-linked media deals

Sun Mar 10, 2013 5:03pm EDT
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By Clare Jim and Yimou Lee

TAIPEI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Taiwan regulators, under pressure from a public worried that Beijing may meddle in their media, have begun talking tough on TV and newspaper deals by Taiwanese businessmen with strong ties to the mainland.

The island's media watchdog has proposed new anti-monopoly rules that could scuttle the $601 million sale of Next Media Ltd's 0282.HK Taiwan operations to a Taiwanese group including Want Want Holdings (0151.HK: Quote) owner Tsai Eng-meng, who runs a multibillion dollar snacks-to-property empire in China.

Academics and media professionals, as well as the political opposition, fear Tsai and others who make their fortunes on the mainland will push a pro-Beijing bias on Taiwan's free-wheeling media. Tsai, who already owns a top-four Taiwan daily, has denied any pro-China agenda but has attracted controversy as a vocal proponent of Taiwan unification with the mainland.

In January, the island's independent media regulator opposed an anti-monopoly amendment drafted by the opposition that would have blocked the New Media sale, saying it was too strict. Parliament rejected the measure and called on the regulator to draft a new bill.

That sparked a public backlash, and now the National Communication Commission seems to be changing its tune, showing more sensitivity about China's perceived influence in the media.

"Whether or not a group is leaning too much towards China would affect the extent of the health of the market," an NCC official, who declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue, told Reuters. "We don't want to see the market overly dominated by a certain group."

Taiwan's Free Trade Commission, which will also have to sign off on the print portion of the Next Media deal, said it was well aware of public concerns and would make the review process as transparent as possible.

Perceptions of mainland influence in the media have stirred political controversy on an island that mistrusts China yet depends heavily on it for trade and investment opportunities.   Continued...

A man walks past the logo of Next Media at its headquarters in Taipei January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang