Fri, Mar 29, 2002 - Page 12 News List

An invasion of national privacy is the big issue

By Wu Chih-chung 吳志中

Once again a press freedom incident with great social impact has erupted.

Media reports that highlight social reality often decide the values of society. Let's consider for a moment the impact that last year's Chu Mei-feng (璩美鳳) sex-VCD scandal and the current incident regarding the leakage of state secrets, both related to press freedom, may have had on the international reputation and prestige of Taiwan. Reflection over these two incidents, as well as the polarization of social values over the issue of press freedom, offers Taiwan the opportunity to start again.

Regardless of the contents of the VCD in the Chu Mei-feng scandal, the incident involved an invasion of privacy, which should be off-limits to the media. The media, however, still hides behind press freedom when distributing pornographic VCD's and corrupting the moral values of Taiwanese society.

In the latest row over state secrets, the media still think freedom of the press means total freedom from restriction, even believing that they are right to report issues that threaten the existence of Taiwan in the international arena. In fact, both incidents involve infringements of privacy: one is an invasion of personal privacy, the other of "national privacy."

It also involves the relationship between individuals and the state. Without the individual, how can there be a state? Without the protection of national laws, however, great harm would be done to the interests of the individual. The two therefore exist in symbiosis and they can only prosper and develop on a basis of mutual respect.

The importance of the media lies in the supervision and protection of this symbiosis, creating a space for balanced debate. To a certain degree, the media represent the common conscience of the individual and the state, since the media provides even wider space for consideration and reflection.

When, however, press freedom becomes an unrestrained ideology of its own and begins to invade individual privacy -- judging people and destroying the living space of the state -- which is also duty-bound to protect the media's freedom of expression, shouldn't we then stop to consider whether this kind of press freedom is an abuse of press freedom?

The victim in the sex-VCD scandal was betrayed by her best friend while Taiwan has been sold out by the very intelligence personnel that should protect her safety.

Freedom of the press is supposed to eliminate conflict and increase trust, but certain media outlets have instead become the foremost disseminators of negative material, creating an unprecedented crisis of trust in Taiwanese society.

In a short ten years or so, Taiwan has been transformed from an authoritarian regime into a democratic society. The peaceful transfer of power following the presidential election in March 2000 received tremendous global attention. In our moment of pride over Taiwan's democratization, we also have to understand that the road toward democracy and the rule of law is not an easy one. Taiwanese society is still adapting to the change.

Regardless of whether the leaking of state secrets is part of infighting among intelligence agencies, or if it is opposition parties striking back at the government, this is a transitional period for Taiwanese society. Maybe such tests will bring home important lessons to Taiwanese society, leading to a reconsideration of the responsibility of the media and the position of press freedom.

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