Sun, Nov 06, 2016 - Page 6 News List

China sets itself back by barring reporters

By Kung Ling-shin 孔令信

Beijing barred reporters from three Taiwanese media organizations — the Liberty Times (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times), Up Media and Mirror Media, a newly launched Taiwanese weekly — from covering Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in China due to “technical difficulties.”

Authorities said that since space in the meeting room was limited, even reporters from some Chinese media outlets had to be barred from entering the room.

Judging from China’s experience hosting many summits, Beijing’s claim that it was unable to find a room big enough for the three Taiwanese media outlets does not make much sense.

The only reasonable explanation is that the host selected these outlets for special treatment.

The freedoms of expression and the media are basic rights that are regarded in democratic nations as fundamental. It is the responsibility of media outlets to monitor authorities and hold them up to public scrutiny.

By banning these three outlets from covering the meeting due to so-called “technical difficulties,” Beijing deprived the reporters of their right to gather news. Not only did it fail to live up to its duties as a host, it also limited freedom of the press.

Since China claims to be a major power, its acts beg the question of why it would act in such a narrow-minded manner.

The Hung-Xi meeting differed from former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) meeting with Xi last year. Hung’s meeting with Xi represented a new model for cross-strait interactions in that it was a meeting between Chinese government officials and a Taiwanese opposition party, which the KMT has again become.

It was an important milestone for the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party as it was an expression of their concern for the development of ties between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and there was no reason to ban either local or foreign journalists from gaining an understanding of this situation and reporting on it.

China’s barring of Taiwanese media outlets raises suspicions that it is pointedly excluding those who are thought to have ties to President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration.

At this turning point, where the two sides should seek communication, cooperation and mutual respect, barring these outlets could trigger criticism and thus set up more unnecessary obstacles between the two sides.

Would it not be a pity if such obstacles were to hurt the good intentions behind the meeting?

As for the topics discussed at the meeting, Xi inevitably unveiled his expectations and vision about the future of cross-strait development. Journalists went to Beijing to report firsthand on the atmosphere of the meeting.

However, other media outlets covering the event would certainly report on China’s exclusion of Taiwanese reporters, which would divert the focus on the key points of Xi’s statement. This implies that Beijing missed the main point by focusing on smaller issues.

Finally, the media environment in Taiwan is very competitive and probably quite different from the situation in China, but basic newsgathering rights and press freedom are not negotiable.

If China had avoided its inappropriate exclusion of these media outlets and instead allowed them to cover it, Beijing would surely have received much more praise than criticism.

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