The mainstream media have a monopoly on how “peaceful” and “rational” are defined, and this acts like the Internet censorship used in China.
They view mass movements as petulant children. They lingered on the image of the glass broken when the protesters forced their way into the legislature, but later at the same spot, people who had been jostling in the small hours of the morning parted like the Red Sea to allow stretchers in and out, and police officers forced out of formation in the pushing and shoving were allowed to leave the same way. The crowds to the side called out in unison not to hurt the police, and to give them safe passage, and a girl next to me was profusely apologetic to a police officer who had been hit.
The journalists reporting on this failed to appreciate the positive aspects of what they were seeing, choosing to view it through the prism of the conflict between police and protesters that occurred more than 20 years ago. Both the public and the police have learned the lessons of the past, acting on this occasion with restraint and maturity. It is just the media that have not moved on.
Battles between protesters and police in the past led to many casualties, and even in the intervening lulls between confrontations, the two sides retreated red-eyed and indignant.
The scenes we are currently getting from the legislature, still, are of calm. In the absence of any order for the chamber to be cleared, you can see people at the forefront of either side chatting with each other, while those in the background are relaxing, eating, joking with each other or just killing time swishing their smartphones.
The occupation has been turned into a reality TV show, broadcasting every mundane second of the proceedings and every trivial detail of the students’ life at the protest. It has been distorted into a piece of theater.
While journalists are expected to stay the course, doing overtime — probably unpaid — members of the public can record scenes of the protesters passing the time of day and post them online. However, those like the police and the reporters have to get on with our respective jobs during this preposterous sideshow. It is time for the two sides to come together.
It is precisely because of the considerable influence that the traditional media have that it is important how things are reported. As the fourth estate, the media have a responsibility to monitor the powers-that-be.
In the past, when the clashes were much more violent, the ruling and opposition parties would burn the midnight oil locked in crisis talks, helping our nascent democracy take its first, uncertain steps. All we hear now is empty words, while the protesters remain in the streets.
This article began with the straight razor as a metaphor for the dangerous potential of the occupation. Let us hope this razor is used here for something positive, for making the legislature more presentable, rather than using it to slice the throat of our democracy and therefore the destiny of our country.
Pan Han-shen is a former spokesperson for the Green Party Taiwan.
Translated by Paul Cooper