Freedom of speech and change in police conduct in Taiwan? (update)
There have been a lot of discussions about the KMT’s meddling in state owned media where 1) Ma’s government asked the Central News Agency to reduce negative reports about the government and appointed Ma’s presidential election spokesperson who doesn’t have any experience in journalism as CNA vice chairperson; 2) Ma’s government told RTI to tone down criticisms on China. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) criticised such interference.
However, the threat to freedom is not restricted to press freedom. I have blogged about signs indicating that the KMT has started watching and persecuting people again. Similar incidents seem to be occurring more frequently in Taiwan.
Police investigating members in an online forum
A few of days ago, the police wrote a letter to an online forum on stock market to as the site administrator hand over certain members’ personal information and their IP addresses to the police to facilitate police investigation as those people have expressed critical views on certain companies’ future or probably criticised the government (I’m not sure if there were any bad languages or personal attacks). This happened after the deputy head of Financial Supervisory Commission, Lee, Jih-chu announced that the government would investigate anyone who encourages short selling. If someone expresses pessimism on a company’s future based on their current performance or reservations on the whole market based on the government’s current policy or the global economy (i.e. informed and evidence based), will he/she be in trouble? Probably. It doesn’t look like those people have published inappropriate articles or graphics online. They are more likely to have simply engaged in discussions and expressed pessimism about the stock market in the forum. After receiving the letter from the police, the site administrator told their members to be careful with what they say in the forum. This has provoked anxiety in other online forums. The chief executive of another similar organisation issued a statement, asking the police and the forum under investigation to respect individual privacy and target the police resources on vicious companies, analysts or the media rather than ordinary people.
Police arrests of convenience store employees
It was reported on 9th October that the police went into several convenience stores and arrested employees for selling a particular issue of a long running magazine. That particular issue contains SM descriptions and graphics. One of the employees explained that they have been selling that magazine for years and met the legal requirements by having that issue tightly sealed in plastic cover and clearly labelled its explicit nature and age restriction. Those people were handcuffed during the arrest and kept in a police cell overnight. They said they were frightened and feel that white terror is back. A former judge questioned the police conduct and thought the way it went down was a bit ‘over the top’. The police argued that the handcuffing was necessary to prevent suspects from escaping and the reason for the overnight detention was due to the fact that they don’t question/interrogate at night. The police pointed out that they did give those arrestees a consent form to sign but if the way they carry out their duties cause any upset, they will look into it.
Update: there’s a clip of an interview with the former CNA editor in chief, Chuang, Feng-cha who shared his observations of the changes in the KMT government’s interferences with CNA’s reporting after Ma took office and his views on the KMT’s treatment to state owned media. He expresses his concern that the KMT and Ma’s government is politicinsing state owned media and treating those organisations as their mouthpiece just like the old times. He pointed out that even during the ‘red shirt army’ protests in 2006, which really hurt former President Chen’s image, the DPP government or the party never put pressure on him or CNA as a whole to reduce or tone down any reporting on the protests. He said this was actually supposed to be the thing to do and did not deserve to be praised but he would still like to highlight the differences he has personally witnessed in the two administrations.
He reckons that the KMT is doing this because this is the only way they know how to maintain their power. He believes that even if the KMT stops openly interfering, they may still use their power over the budget to put pressure on state owned news agencies. He is worried about the integrity and credibility of CNA in the future and the wider implications in the society. He hopes that more Taiwanese journalists stop seeing themselves as being completely powerless, fully realise their rights and responsibilities as a journalist and can stand up to political interferences from the government no matter which party is in power.