Today is World Press Freedom Day. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution designating this day as such in 1993.
Its main purpose is to stress the importance of freedom of the press and protection of journalists. These are fundamental conditions for any country that wants to develop democratic politics, initiate political reform and promote prosperity.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
BASIC HUMAN RIGHT
Thus, press freedom is a basic human right. Building an independent and autonomous media environment and protecting freedom of opinion and expression are both symbols of an advanced and modern country.
Today, through its tight monitoring and control of newspapers, television, radio stations and even the Internet, China has comprehensive restrictions on its people and prevents them freely circulating ideas relating to human rights, democracy and freedom.
It also minimizes their opportunities to express their own opinions.
Now, with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China is attempting to improve its image in the areas of human rights and press freedom.
On the one hand, Beijing promised the international community that it would ensure freedom of the press and agreed to loosen restrictions on travel for foreign journalists.
On the other, it has been expanding the monitoring and control of media outlets and journalists, and has strengthened the suppression and persecution of political dissidents and human rights activists.
In March, China attracted considerable international attention by cracking down on peaceful demonstrations by Tibetans.
The result was violent persecution.
Then, using regional stability as an excuse, China expelled foreign journalists from Tibet in an attempt to block news about the government’s suppression of the local population.
Official Chinese media outlets then distorted the facts and defamed Tibetan people while covering up how soldiers and police arrested, imprisoned and killed local residents.
The authorities will now wait until the situation stabilizes before choosing a more appropriate time to reopen Tibet to Western journalists so that they can spread the message at home and abroad that Tibet is calm.
But if its crackdown was reasonable, legitimate and legal, then why did it have to expel foreign journalists in the first place?
Such a pointed blockade of news and banishment of foreign journalists highlights the nature of the Chinese government, which openly deprives the press of its freedoms so that it can maintain control of media content.
The bloody crackdown in Tibet and the corresponding crackdown on press freedom in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics have deepened the international community’s impression of China as an authoritarian regime opposed to democracy and human rights.
This behavior violates the Olympic ideal of promoting peace and respect for human rights through sports.
Chen Lung-chu is the chairman of the Taiwan New Century Foundation.
Translated by Eddy Chang