NEXT STEP: The group would have to secure approval in Taiwan for the sale of ‘Next Magazine,’ since the deal involves the withdrawal and entrance of foreign investors
By Shelley Shan / Staff reporter
Hong Kong-based Next Digital Ltd （壹傳媒）, the group that owns Taiwan’s Chinese-language Next Magazine （壹週刊） and Apple Daily （蘋果日報） newspapers, yesterday temporarily suspended trading in Hong Kong after the company was reportedly finalizing the sale of Next Magazine and other publications in the group.
According to the Hong Kong edition of the Apple Daily, Next Digital chief executive officer Cheung Ka-sing （張嘉聲） announced in a meeting with employees at 11am yesterday that the group had accepted W Brothers Investment Ltd’s offer of HK$500 million （US$6.4 million） to purchase both the Hong Kong and Taiwan editions of Next Magazine, as well as three others in the group.
The entire transaction is scheduled to be completed by September, Cheung added.
The Apple Daily in Taiwan and Hong Kong are not included in the deal, Cheung said.
The investment firm is owned by Hong Kong businessman Kenny Wee （黃浩）, Cheung said, adding that the deal secured firm support from the group’s largest shareholder and chairman, Jimmy Lai （黎智英）.
The group also issued a written statement to its employees explaining the sale.
“In the past few years, we have seen the transition of news media from print to digital. This is an irresistible trend… The decision to sell Next Magazine is a crucial part of the group’s plan for transformation, and the transaction shows that the transformation is basically complete,” the group said in a statement.
The group also said that it has reached an agreement with the buyer, who has promised to continue investing in Next Magazine and allow reporters who wish to continue working for the magazine to develop their talents.
“The buyer’s proposal is in sync with the group’s strategies for development,” Lin said.
As of March 31, Next Digital reported an operating loss of HK$393 million this year due to shrinking advertising revenue in Taiwan and Hong Kong, employee layoffs and restructuring of the group’s publications.
Operation of the Taiwan edition of Next Magazine was under scrutiny last year as its former managing editor, Pei Wei （裴偉）, who contributed greatly to the rise of the magazine in Taiwan, chose to leave.
He and several former Next Magazine reporters later launched Mirror Media, which has become Next Magazine’s main competitor.
Management at the Apple Daily also reportedly considered changing its operations and encouraged reporters to take generous severance packages to become freelancers and continue writing for Apple Daily.
In Taiwan, Next Digital would have to secure approval from the Investment Commission of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, as the deal would involve a withdrawal of one foreign investor and an entry of a new foreign investor in the same company.
Taiwan does not allow Chinese individuals to invest in or purchase media outlets, the commission said, adding that the transaction would be disallowed if the funding comes from Chinese investors.
However, the commission said that it would have to wait until the application for transfer of ownership to understand the shareholder structure, which would be jointly reviewed by the Ministry of Culture and National Security Bureau.