Taiwan: Threat of Media Monopoly and Power Abuse

On July 25, 2012, Taiwan media regulator the National Communications Commission (NCC) finally approved Want Want China Times’ acquisition of 60% of the country's second largest cable television services – previously owned by China Network Systems (CNS).

The acquisition process had been under review for 18 months as the media organization has been involved in a number of scandals regarding ‘self-censorship’ practices that “erase words that are critical of China“, which became an issue in particular after Tsai Eng-Meng, a Taiwanese businessman who has strong ties with mainland China, purchased China Times in 2008.

Concerns over press freedom

Many media and journalism scholars are worried that Want Want China Times’ extension into the cable business will result in further monopoly of media in Taiwan, and a strong influence of the mainland Chinese government into Taiwanese politics.

As a compromise, the NCC introduced three conditions into the agreement: 1. Want Want China Times has to sell one of their television channels, Chung Tien Television; 2. China Television (CTV) has to turn into a non-news channel; and 3. CTV must establish an independent editorial system.

Taiwan's Apple Daily's headline pointed out that once the acquisition of cable service by Want Want China Times is completed, Taiwan media would be monopolized by one voice. Image from lighten-night.

Taiwan's Apple Daily's headline pointed out that once the acquisition of cable service by Want Want China Times is completed, Taiwan media would be monopolized by one voice. Image from lighten-night.

Disappointed by the NCC's decision, a number of scholars protested outside the NCC office on the day the announcement was made. They believe [zh] that Want Want China Times will bring harm to freedom of press in Taiwan, as well as professional and independent journalism:


It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, in Taiwan, if someone has sufficient capital, s/he can control the transmission of news and information without any control and abuse heartlessly the democracy and freedom that take so long to build up. What makes us agonize is that Mr. Tsai Eng-Meng, the head of Want Want China Group, has used his money to prove that this nightmare will come true. After Mr. Tsai came back Taiwan from China and bought China Times, China Television Company, and Chung Tien Television, what we see is a corporation that controls money and media at the same time. This corporation is able to influence politics, manipulate public opinions, play the system, and tread on our laws! Now the news can be sold as advertisement. The political parties in Taiwan, our government, and our military system must step out the media. However, the political party, the government, and the military system in China can buy the embedded news in Taiwan! Their media can be used as a tool for personal revenge. Their media can put [a nice face] on an anti-democracy, dictatorship government. Who listens to them will be prosperous, and who disobeys them will die. Although they are impudent, as long as they have TV channels, there is always someone willing to perform or give comments there. As long as they control the media, the politicians are kidnapped and never dare to say a word.

Dramatic withdrawal

Dramatically, whilst NCC was willing to compromise, Tsai withdrew from the conditional terms and claimed that the Want Want China Times Group will not sell Chung Tien Television to anyone [zh].

In addition, as if to retaliate against one of the scholars, Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) – a research fellow at Academia Sinica who has been a major public opinion leader against the acquisition – various Want Want media outlets, including Chung Tien TV and China Times, accused Huang of paying students to protest outside the NCC on July 25. In addition, they claimed that Huang was planning to flee to the United States.

Huang Kuo-chang clarified in a press conference [zh] that he only organized the scholars to read the statement in front of the NCC and was not aware of the student protest which came after the scholar petition. Whilst Jean Liu, Huang's wife, explained [zh] via Facebook that their trip to the US is funded by the Fulbright Senior Scholar's Program, which was approved in early May 2012.

At the same time, Taiwan's Apple Daily reported that some netizens had identified [zh] the deputy editor of the Times Weekly, one of the Want Want media outlets, amongst the student protesters and speculated that the whole incident was a staged scandal to assassinate Huang's character.

Frustrated by Want Want China Times’ abuse of media power, on July 28 the Association of Taiwan Journalists posted a statement [zh] on their Facebook page:


The Association of Taiwan Journalists feels distressed by Want Want China Times because their news [outlets] used unethical manipulation to blackmail a scholar and they violated the profession and ethics of journalism. The journalists in China Times made one report by linking two different protest activities that are not related to each other… Second, this report violated the principles of balance reporting. Their journalists addressed someone absent in the scene as a modulator behind the scene before they interviewed that person. This way of making news only for some purpose of a single media corporation is the fall of the profession of journalists… This media group then made news and special coverage to make up a role for J.S.D. Huang Kuo-Chang without evidence. The Association of Taiwan Journalists feels very distressed by the existence of this kind of media in Taiwan.

Renewtwculture [zh] created a news package about the incident and commented:


With the demonstration of Want Want China Times Group, we finally know how to humiliate and blackmail a person via television channels, newspapers, and magazines. Although they do not have any evidence, they try to make public opinions and pretend that public opinions can be evidence to fool other people and humiliate a person without any doubt… However, if you are not an audience with sharp observations, you would not see this kind of manipulation. This is the terrifying part of a media giant.


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