Sun, Aug 16, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Discussing rules of the media game

By Hu Yuan-hui 胡元輝

The protests against adjustments to high-school curriculum guidelines have drawn to a halt, and so too has the legal action that the Ministry of Education took against reporters who entered the ministry building last month. However, a suspension of legal action does not mean that the government can avoid responsibility for obstructing press freedom, nor does it mean that the increasingly ruthless suppression of journalism during protests should be allowed to continue. It is time to re-establish regulations protecting the right to report during protests.

An official explanation of the harm caused to press freedom when the reporters were arrested has not been offered by the ministry, prosecutors or the police. Nor have any apologies been issued. No wonder some media organizations have strongly criticized the ministry, saying its dropping of the lawsuit could be likened to slapping a person in public and then apologizing in private.

The Taipei City Government has held discussions with media organizations about regulations governing newsgathering at the scene of protests, but these discussions have failed to address the requirements for reporting in real situations. Reportedly, the discussions have included designating a specific zone for reporters, asking reporters to wear uniform vests and having the police arrange a liaison with reporters on site. However, experience both in Taiwan and abroad shows that designating a reporting zone limits journalists’ area of operations and seriously restricts information gathering. Implementation would be difficult. Although arranging a liaison between the police and reporters could be seen as an extension of the police’s service, the liaison would not be capable of meeting reporting needs — which are complicated and urgent — or confirm reporters’ identification. Hence, this measure would be of little use to address controversies over reporting at the scene of protests.

Many journalists in democratic countries agree on the use of identification, in that it facilitates reporting while making it easier for the police to do their job. The problem is how to find a good way to display IDs. Pragmatically speaking, if media organizations or journalists cannot reach a consensus with the government on how identification should be done, it would seem most workable for journalists to do it themselves. After all, citizen or independent reporters, who are being gradually recognized by law, do not belong to any media organizations, nor are they administered by the police. This makes it impractical for the government or media organizations to impose a uniform identification scheme.

If professional and citizen reporters were to make their own badges, reporter ID cards or vests to identify themselves, it would be easier for the police to distinguish demonstrators from reporters at the scene of a protest. As for the reporters, this would protect their right to report and reduce the risk of them being mistaken for protesters. The police might suspect demonstrators of trying to avoid being controlled by pretending to be reporters. This might have happened in the past, but it is not a matter of great concern. Citizen reporters have their clear mission, and if they want to do their duty correctly, which is to report news, they should not display or conceal their IDs carelessly.

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