Next Media sells Taiwan units despite China fears



Hong Kong: Hong Kong's Next Media said Wednesday it sealed a series of deals to sell major Taiwanese publications to local businesses despite concerns that the move would make the island's media more pro-Beijing.

The company said in an internal memo obtained said that agreements with "respective buyers" were signed on Tuesday to sell off the Taiwan editions of Apple Daily and Next magazine as well as Taiwan Sharp Daily and Next TV.

The memo did not name the buyers. But a source with Next Media identified them as Want Want China Holdings founder Tsai Eng-meng, Chinatrust Charity Foundation head Jeffrey Koo Jr, Formosa Plastics Group president Wang Wen-yuan and two other businessmen in a deal worth Tw$17.5 billion ($600 million).

The deal is pending the approval of Taiwanese regulators as well as shareholders of the Hong Kong-listed Next Media, which is controlled by tycoon Jimmy Lai, a vocal critic of China. The deal has raised concerns from some employees and observers, particularly over the perceived pro-Beijing views of Tsai. He has substantial business interests in China and also owns the Taipei-based China Times media group.

On Tuesday nearly 200 students and activists protested outside the cabinet offices in Taipei, arguing the deal would create a pro-China media monopoly. They chanted slogans and scuffled with dozens of riot police while trying to push their way into the government buildings, but there were no injuries or arrests.

Such issues are still sensitive in Taiwan more than six decades after it split from China following a civil war. Beijing views the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, although ties have improved in recent years.

"We oppose the deal as it will monopolise the media market and not only mean a setback for freedom of the press but also lead to a big crisis in Taiwan's democratic development," said Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the China-sceptic opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

If completed the deal will mark Lai's exit from Taiwan, 11 years after he expanded his media empire to the island with the launch of Next magazine and Apple Daily. Both have been commercial successes.

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