Market Commentary and Intraday News
China critic to sell Taiwan media holdings
246 days ago
By PETER ENAV
(AP:TAIPEI, Taiwan) A Hong Kong media magnate highly critical of China is selling major media holdings in Taiwan to a group headed by a local businessman whose family has substantial interests on the mainland.
A source at Hong Kong-listed Next Media Ltd said Tuesday that Jimmy Lai would sell Next Media Entertainment Services Ltd. to a group headed by Jeffrey Koo Jr. for New Taiwan dollars 17.5 billion ($580 million).
The source spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the deal.
Next Media includes the highly profitable Apple Daily newspaper, Next magazine, a muckraking weekly often critical of Taiwan's China-friendly government, and an Internet TV station.
Lai retains his flagship Hong Kong newspaper _ also called Apple Daily _ which regularly rattles Hong Kong's Beijing masters with its hard-hitting denunciations of communist rule.
Koo's father is the chairman of Chinatrust Financial Holding Co., which recently received approval to begin operations in China. The Koo family has a number of other business interests on the mainland, as do most of the island's leading families.
The Lai announcement comes hard on the heels of pro-China Taiwanese newspaper publisher Tsai Eng-meng's attempts to complete a $2.4 billion deal for a cable TV network system. The deal won approval from the Taiwan National Communications Commission on condition he sell a cable TV station.
Tsai later denied there had been any such understanding, leading to charges the regulator was under political pressure to cut him slack. The commission says the case is now in the courts.
Ever since Taiwan began moving away from one-party rule in the 1980s, press freedom has been an important component of its vibrant political culture. Today one the island's three major newspapers and two of its eight cable TV news stations strongly oppose efforts by President Ma Ying-jeou to tighten Taiwan's relationship with China, the signature plank of his 4 1/2 years in office.
Moves such as the Next Media sale and the Tsai cable deal are seen as underscoring growing Chinese influence on the island of 23 million people, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, and ever since has been waging a quiet battle to maintain its de facto independence in the face of unremitting efforts by Beijing to bring it back in the fold.
Today 40 percent of Taiwan's trade is with China and the mainland has attracted $140 billion in Taiwanese investments. An estimated 1 million Taiwanese live on the mainland, and more than 2 million Chinese tourists visit Taiwan annually.
The China accommodation trend in the media is not only in outlets like Tsai's outspokenly pro-Beijing China Times newspaper, which balks at almost all direct criticism of the mainland, but even in pro-opposition TV outlets, which sometimes dampen anti-China coverage amid efforts to complete potentially lucrative Chinese-language programming deals with Chinese media companies.
"Taiwanese news media have more or less imposed self-censorship on China criticism because many of their owners have either personal or company investments on the mainland," said Lo Chih-cheng, a political scientist at Taipei's Soochow University.
Tsai, whose China food business is the basis of a fortune recently estimated by Forbes Magazine at $8 billion, raised hackles earlier this year when he told the Washington Post that China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters near Beijing's Tiananmen Square didn't produce anywhere near the number of casualties attributed to it in media reports, including those from Taiwan.
Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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