(AP) – A contentious bid by a pro-China businessman and three associates to acquire Taiwan’s largest newspaper and an influential investigative journal has fallen through after protests that the deal threatened press freedom on the democratic island.
Mark Simon, spokesman for Hong Kong-based Next Media Ltd. which owns the publications, told The Associated Press “as far as we know they won’t be buying” the Apple Daily newspaper and Next Magazine.
Simon’s statement on Tuesday comes one day before the deadline for completion of the 16 billion New Taiwan dollars ($536 million) sale to the son of food magnate Tsai Eng-meng, William Wong of the Formosa Plastics Group, Chinatrust Charity Foundation Chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr. and Lung Yen Life Service Corp. Chairman Li Shih-tsung.
The prospective deal had sparked widespread opposition in Taiwan because of concerns over Tsai’s pro-Chinese stance and his control of another Taiwan media company, the China Times Group. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949.
Citing Tsai’s statements in favor of Taiwan’s absorption by China, Taiwanese protesters had pressed regulators to nix the deal, saying that it would concentrate a large portion of Taiwan’s media in the hands of a single individual whose commitment to a free press was in doubt.
Over the past several weeks signs have emerged that regulators were entertaining serious doubts about the acquisition.
Next Media is owned by Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong-based businessman reviled by China for his anti-communist views. He and Tsai were both suitors for the China Times Group in 2008.
Unlike the mainland, Taiwan has a free press, and the two publications that Tsai and his associates sought to buy have gained a reputation for editorial independence and a commitment to Taiwan remaining independent of China, which sees the island as renegade province.