Tuesday, February 13, 2007

[Malaysiakini] Media merger may stump competition

The following article is taken from Malaysiakini.

Two media watchdogs have warned that the proposed merger of three media groups in Malaysia and Hong Kong under Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King would harm competition at home and abroad.

In a statement yesterday, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) and Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) said the merger may curb competition and pluralism in the Chinese media.

On Jan 30, the Malaysia-based Sin Chew Media Corporation announced its intention to acquire Hong Kong-based Ming Pao Group and invited Nanyang Press Holdings to join in.

The proposed tripartite merger will create the largest Chinese publication group outside of China and Taiwan with a combined presence in Malaysia, Hong Kong, United States, Canada, Indonesia and Cambodia.

According to CIJ, the merger may also subject Chinese readers to more political control in the countries concerned.

“If the consolidation of Tiong's media empire is aimed at China's market (as reported), there is also a concern that these newspapers will protect and advance the interest of China.

“This will exacerbate worries about domestic political censorship, at the expense of freedom of expression and information,” it added.

Serious threat

CIJ noted that such concentration of media ownership will pose a serious threat to freedom and good governance.

“Media tycoons can use their political leverage to bargain on behalf of their commercial interests, paving the way for socially or environmentally disastrous business projects and concessions.

“Even the effectiveness of public opinion as a check in a democratic system can be jeopardised when it is subsumed by the concentration of power,” it said.

Another danger noted by CIJ is the growing susceptibility to censorship pressures as seen in Internet giants Microsoft, Yahoo and Google submitting to Beijing's dictation.

CIJ is urging the Securities Commission to investigate the proposed merger with consideration to consumer interest, freedom of expression and foreign control of local media.

Shareholders from Sin Chew and Nanyang are expected to vote on it in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Barring any objections from the shareholders, the merger is expected to conclude by Feb 28 2008.

The merger could end with the new media tycoon owning about 53 percent in the new Ming Pao, with Huaren Holdings, the other substantial owner of Nanyang, holding 3.5 percent.

Currently, Tiong holds 44.8 percent of Nanyang after buying over MCA’s 21.02 percent stake in the company.

Sin Chew publishes Sin Chew Daily and Guangming Daily while Nanyang publishes Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press.

The four dailies take up 85 percent of the total Chinese daily circulation in Malaysia.

Under the proposed merger, Sin Chew and Nanyang would be delisted from Bursa Malaysia and replaced with Ming Pao, which would see the first Malaysia-Hong Kong dual primary listing.

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