Sat, Mar 23, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Consumer action, not censorship

When Taiwan was under the martial law yoke of the Chiang dynasty, the "national security" label was slapped on almost any politically-sensitive issue and information. Reporting on corruption cases involving diplomatic envoys, for example, was barred as endangering national security and damaging to the the morale of Taiwan's diplomatic corps.

When Chiang Wei-kuo (蔣緯國) built a house on Yangmingshan, no Taipei City mayor -- until Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) -- dared to tackle the legality of the structure it because it was reportedly located in an "important military area" and therefore vital to national security. No big surprise that when Taipei authorities did tear down a portion of the house, the demolition did no harm to national security. The move was, however, an embarrassment to city authorities because it turned out the structure was was legal after all -- but that's another story.

With the shift of political power to Taiwanese, begun under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and continuing under Chen, the "national security" excuse has been used less and less as an excuse for government abuse. However, that does not mean that there are no legitimate needs for national security or secrets. Nor does it mean the government can avoid a clear accounting for its actions under the guise of security concerns.

Those who would use the banner of freedom of the press as a cover for publishing state secrets should be willing to undergo as thorough a scrutiny as that which they claim to be giving such secrecy. Good reporters try to maintain an impartial balance. Consumers know that they must consider the source of the stories they read or hear when weighing the validity of the reports.

In Taiwan, such evaluations are an absolutely necessity. The attitude and behavior of pro-unification media in the last few years has been as destructive to Taiwan as the KMT's censorship ever was. The issue of press censorship has been raised this week by the government's effort to block publication of Next magazine. Amid the furor sparked by that effort, the biased reporting in that magazine's reports about secret funds has almost been overlooked.

But the man who wrote Next's tell-all cover story is a long-time mouthpiece of the Beijing authorities. His sensational and inflammatory rhetoric -- "Lee Teng-hui is still at large beyond the arm of the law," "black money," "abuse of the law and exercise of dictatorial power fills one with fear," should raise questions about his objectivity. The magazine's cover reads "Lee Teng-hui illegally misappropriated NT$3.5 billion," a suggestion of embezzlement that is not backed up by any evidence in the story.

The author is also the younger brother of the PFP's deputy propaganda chief. Given the enmity between Lee and his one-time protegee, PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) -- whose political reputation has been badly damaged by an embezzlement scandal of his own -- questions should be raised both about the report, its timing and the political bias of the writers. One cannot help but suspect that the article was intended to stir up a round of political wrangling.

Most people know that the PFP's loyalties, like those of the near-defunct New Party, lie in Beijing, not in a government led by Taiwanese. Politicians or parties who truly identify with Taiwan would never endanger national security through vicious political wrangling.

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