Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai's Next Media said Tuesday that controversial plans to sell its Taiwan print operations are likely to fall through after buyers let an agreement lapse ahead of deadline.
In November the company announced it had signed deals worth Tw$16.0 billion (US$540 million) to sell its Taiwan print media, including the popular Apple Daily to five local businesses.
But Mark Simon, a commercial director at Next Media, said the buyers had told the company they would not meet the Tuesday night deadline for the deal.
However, he said a separate deal to sell the company's Taiwan television operations for Tw$1.5 billion was "still alive".
The planned sale of the publications has sparked protests in Taiwan over concerns the deals could create a pro-China media monopoly.
The main buyers have been identified as Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of the China Times media group, Chinatrust Charity Foundation head Jeffrey Koo Jr, and Formosa Plastics Group president Wang Wen-yuan.
Concerns have been raised, particularly over the perceived pro-Beijing views of Tsai, also founder of Want Want China Holdings, who has substantial business interests in China.
But he reportedly back off amid the growing criticism. He was not immediately available for comment.
The influence of Beijing is a sensitive subject 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.
The deal requires the approval of Taiwanese regulators as well as shareholders of the Hong Kong-listed Next Media, controlled by vocal China critic Lai.
If completed, the deal would 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.