Mon, Mar 25, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Freedom of the press has its limits

By Chang Chung-yung 張中勇

Recent media reports have given the public an in-depth understanding of corruption within the National Security Bureau (NSB). The news burst forth in a series of cases, including those of former bureau chief cashier Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍), former chief of the NSB's personnel department Major-General Pan Hsi-hsien (潘希賢) and so on.

In particular, the case of the media exposing the bureau's secret accounts could be called thoroughly revealing. The reports not only describe in detail the handling of the funds, their movement and their final usage, the stories also back up the charges with photocopies of original documents, which serve as evidence and help put the allegations in context. These reports satisfy the public's "right to know" and their curiosity. Moreover, by removing the veil of secrecy surrounding intelligence activities, the reports fulfill the media's government-supervisory function and pressure the au-thorities to resume operations that abide by the rule of law.

Actually, in order to carry out their duties, intelligence organs should have secrecy to protect their sources and working methods. At times, due to limitations from internal and external factors, they must work on the margins of the law, acting as circumstance requires. However, these characteristics do not imply that intelligence organizations can operate in a black box or transcend the system by rising above the law without submitting to supervision. Thus, putting aside the question of whether the intended use of such funds was proper or in the national interest, it was wrong for the NSB to collect budget surpluses from past years in a secret account to evade the restrictions of budget statements and audits. If corruption or malfeasance did occur, that is all the worse.

The media can indeed play a supervisory role in society by reporting on intelligence scandals and thereby goad the government into remedying shortcomings.

However, reports that are overly specific in their descriptions of matters outside of corruption cases may make friendly governments, organizations and political figures feel awkward or reluctant to go forward with such agreements. This is especially the case with reports that detail sensitive or classified intelligence operations abroad -- such as the use of economic assistance to buy diplomatic recognition or contributions to foreign think tanks or politicians that support Taiwan.

Ultimately, these reports are damaging to pragmatic diplomatic relations and international intelligence cooperation. Furthermore, leaking classified information, exposing government strategy, cutting off foreign aid and generally placing ourselves in dire straits are all obviously beneficial to China and other other enemies.

Freedom of the press is undoubtedly an important indicator of democratic politics and a safeguard of human rights. However, if extended without limit, considerable harm to the national interest may result.

Chang Chung-yung is a professor in the department of security at the Central Police University.

Translated by Ethan Harkness

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