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Fears for Media Diversity and Freedom Heightened in Taiwan

November 23, 2012

Fears for Media Diversity and Press Freedom Heightened in Taiwan

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) in expressing concern about the details of the sale of Next Media’s Taiwan Holdings and the potential threat posed to media diversity and press freedom in Taiwan.

It was first reported in mid-October by local media that media mogul Jimmy Lai planned to sell his Taiwan-based print and television assets to a consortium including Jeffrey Koo, the chairman of Chinatrust Charity Foundation, William Wong, chairman of the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), and a Singapore-based private equity fund.

Concerns over the impact on media diversity as a result of the sale have heightened following confirmation of the dominance of Want Want China Times Group (WWCT)-- whose Chairman tycoon Tsai Eng-meng, is largely seen as pro-Beijing--in the US$601.2 million deal has been confirmed.

The deal includes the sale of Taiwan’s Chinese-language newspapers, Apple Daily, Sharp Daily, as well as Next Magazine and Next TV.

Apple Daily is one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Taiwan, with over two million readers, and has been critical of the Communist Party regime of China (PRC) and has held an independent editorial stance toward Taiwan`s Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government.

On November 19, the ATJ, together with the associated Taiwan News Media Industrial Union, filed a formal complaint to the Executive Yuan (Taiwan’s Cabinet), the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC), the Fair Trade Commission, the National Communications Commission (NCC) and the Council for Labor Affairs that urging them “not [to] passively wait until the transaction contract signing is completed but take positive action to investigate and halt this illegal merger.”

The complaint outlines concerns that the sale could potentially violate laws relating to the separation of finance and industry as the acquisition of Next Media (Taiwan) by WWCT would tip the Group’s control over the print news industry to nearly 50 percent.

The ATJ has warned that such a degree of concentration would “violate the anti-monopoly and fair competition stipulations of the Fair Trade Law and the three laws regulating wireless television, cable and satellite and the broadcasting and radio industries.”

The ATJ and other journalist organistations therefore urged the Commission to closely inspect the deal in relation to the likely impact on press freedom, and also the potential implications for media diversity. They also urged the Commission to investigate the sacking by Next Media Taiwan of more than 10 percent of its workforce before the deal was announced, which prompted several employees to complain to the labour authorities and ask for negotiations to protect their rights and interests.

Similar appeals were issued on November 19 by the four new labour unions which represent the main units of Next Media (Taiwan), namely Apple Daily, Sharp Daily, Next Weekly and Next Television.

In a show of solidarity, over 100 journalists from unions of Apple Daily in Taiwan and Hong Kong’s Next Media Union voiced their concerns on November 20 outside the building of Apple Daily in Hong Kong when they met the Editor-in-Chief of Hong Kong Apple Daily, originally a subsidiary of the Group. Those in attendance wore black T-shirts and facemasks with signs calling for “Freedom” and featuring the slogan “We Don’t Want Black Hands.”

“We again call on the Government of Taiwan to ensure that editorial independence and workers’ rights are protected under the new ownership” said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

“We join the ATJ in calling on the relevant regulatory authorities to ensure that the sale of Next Media does not harm press freedom in Taiwan. We also call on the Government to guarantee that the new owners respect the union’s legal standing to represent employees in collective bargaining processes.”

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

Find the IFJ on Facebook: www.facebook.com/IFJAsiaPacific

ENDS

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