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Change is the only guarantee from selling of Next Media

Publication Date : 19-10-2012

 

What's next after Next? That's the question probably many of us have asked and tried to answer after news came that Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai had struck a deal to sell all of his Next Media operations in Taiwan.

Next will definitely continue to be a major force in the local media industry. But will it be the same?

The introduction of the tabloid-style Apple Daily into Taiwan about a decade ago and then the Next weekly magazine revolutionised the local media. In a good or bad way? It really depends on how you look at it. It has injected vitality into the market, but at the same time greatly increased the presence of tabloid journalism in the local media.

Taiwan was not without its own tabloid publications before Next arrived, but Lai managed to make tabloid mainstream. The huge success of Apple Daily and Next Magazine sent almost every other media establishment in Taiwan — both print and electronic ones — scrambling to follow the Lai style.

Did Lai change the value of Taiwan's society and its people, or did he just hit the right button and release what had already been there — a kind of perverse curiosity and voyeuristic desire? Sociologists may have to answer that question for us.

But what we have been seeing is the love-hate attitude that the general public and media have for Lai's tabloid publications.

People condemn their sensationalism, paparazzi methods, sex, gossips; yet the publications have been number one in terms of circulation. Media personnel criticise their digging up of celebrities' secrets; yet have remained keen to find out the latest Apple Daily and Next Magazine revelation, always with an eye to having their own follow-up stories. They don't see their follow-ups as an intrusion into others' privacy, because they are just picking up what Apple Daily and Next have disclosed.

Is this hypocrisy? We'll let you decide.

But the biggest irony in the fate of Next Media is perhaps how the government has blocked probably the healthiest of the business group's operations — not so much in financial terms, but rather in its pared down approach to salacious news and gossip.

Lai had been eager to obtain a full licence for its Next TV, promising the authorities — the National Communications Commission (NCC) — that its channels would be free of “indecent” content.

He waited five years before obtaining a licence for some of the channels. During the long wait, he invested heavily in Next TV without hardly had any returns.

Last month, he reached a preliminary deal to sell off Next TV — which had been hemorrhaging money — to a cable TV operator. There was speculation that he might not rush to sell the profitable print publications.

But Lai has decided to make a full retreat from the Taiwan media market by backing off from the previous deal and selling off Next Media as a whole to two key figures in two of Taiwan's richest families.

The decision raises questions about what motivated him to leave the Taiwan market permanently. He might have decided to cash in the operations while they were still marketable. There might have been political reasons.

Many critics have claimed that the NCC has been giving Next TV a hard time because of political reasons, that Lai has made too many enemies in business and government.

Lai has been a staunch supporter of democracy and an outspoken critic of the Chinese communists. And because of this he has been “at war” with the allegedly pro-China Want Want media group, trying to stop it from expanding its influence in the local media industry. And it seems that Lai has lost the war.

So what will happen to Next Media and Taiwan's media market and industry after Lai's exit? Critics are already speculating that there will be less gossip and sex — a return to a more “decent” journalism.

Marrying Next Media into two of Taiwan's richest families means that greater consolidation of the media industry is looming. The media industry in Taiwan will definitely be different, with one major distinction certain: Lai won't be part of it anymore.

 

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