Sun, Mar 24, 2002 - Page 8 News List

The nation's security versus press freedom

By Wang Tuoh 王拓

The pursuit of press freedom often entails debates over national security. The news media needs to do its duty by revealing government information to fulfill the people's right to know. On the other hand, the government often views documents related to its operations as secret and prevents their release. This frequently leads to conflicts between press freedom and national security and what each term really means.

Certainly, as US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater does not constitute free speech. Press freedom must be regulated and the press must exercise self-discipline within the parameters of national security. Therefore, when a news report violates national security regulations, the bottom line for press freedom needs to be clearly defined through legislation and interpretation of the law.

In the US, the Privacy Protection Act guarantees press freedom, and the US Supreme Court has tried to ensure that constitutional provisions are in line with press freedom. Even so, disputes over national security and press freedom became inevitable following the Bay of Pigs incident in 1961 and the Pentagon Papers incident in 1971. This demonstrates the difficulty of striking the right balance.

The media needs to weigh how to report on secret budgets used for gathering intelligence, diplomacy and national security when complete exposure of such budgets may compromise the country's security. By becoming the tools of political struggles, the media can mislead the public and inappropriately expose the country's security matters, especially when the National Security Bureau' is afflicted with infighting and interference from various political forces.

However, the NSB cannot use national security as a pretext to protect itself or evade responsibility. The NSB's secretive and inadequate internal control systems could very well be the biggest threat to Taiwan's national security.

Therefore, the government must investigate where the money in each NSB account has gone. It must also drastically reform the NSB's operational structure and stop the mistaken belief that military personnel should be given leading roles. It must also speed up the enactment of laws regulating the disclosure of intelligence information and state secrets. On the one hand, these will define the scope and principles of state secrets. On the other hand, they will encourage the government to disclose information instead of hiding behind the cloak of "national security." Otherwise, national security will become an authoritarian monster that will undermine the progress Taiwan has made in democratization and human rights.

Wang Tuoh is a DPP legislator.

Translated by Francis Huang

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