Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Watchdogging from across the strait

Reporters Sans Frontieres’ Asia bureau director Cedric Alviani discusses media freedom, the new Taipei office and his organization’s mission in East Asia

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The 2017 World Press Freedom Index map published by Reporters Sans Frontieres. Taiwan is the only country in Asia with a “satisfactory situation” when it comes to media freedom.

Photo courtesy of Reporters Sans Frontieres

Cedric Alviani has returned to journalism after nearly two decades away from the field — but this time, he won’t strive for fair reporting.

“[What I’m doing is] activism,” the director of Reporters Sans Frontieres’ (RSF) new Taipei-based Asia bureau says. “When I’m writing a press release, I won’t be trying to balance between, say, [Hong Kong’s] freedom fighters and the Chinese government. I’m making a choice, because in the matters we are dealing with, not making a choice is already giving in to the strongest.”

Alviani, who has lived in Taiwan for 17 years, says he jumped at the opportunity when he heard that the Paris-based press freedom watchdog was planning to open its first Asia bureau. A graduate of the University of Strasbourg’s School of Journalism, Alviani worked for a regional newspaper for two years before moving to Thailand to work for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of his military service.

The job later brought him to Taiwan, where he cofounded Infine Communications, which focuses on project management and consulting for various cultural activities. He also started the Taiwan European Film Festival and served as director of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“I don’t see it as a job,” he says of his new gig. “I had a job. This is a mission.”

A SAFE DISTANCE

Alviani says he was involved in the decision to set up RSF’s office in Taipei instead of Hong Kong, which has seen its press freedom ranking plummet in the past five years. The culprit is China, he says, which censors anything sensitive to the government and flexes its muscles to influence other governments and private businesses.

“China is stressing the fact that you can have freedom of information with limitations,” he says. “That’s something we don’t agree with. Freedom is something that you either have or you don’t.”

Alviani says since Hong Kong is one of the most crucial areas in his bureau’s battle for press freedom, he didn’t feel safe setting up office there.

“It’s not always a good idea to build your headquarters on the frontlines,” he says. “We would be worried that our team could face intimidation, our communications might be under surveillance, and after a couple of months or years we might be asked to leave.”

Although the office is located in Taipei, Taiwan won’t be a priority for the bureau as it boasts the most liberal press in Asia. While the focus will be on China, Hong Kong and North Korea, Alviani says that they will remain critical of Taiwan’s media environment as well as that of other democracies such as South Korea and Japan.

He adds that Taiwanese authorities shouldn’t be satisfied with being first in Asia.

“I wish Taiwan wasn’t the best in the area (while keeping the same score), because there are still things to improve on here,” he says. “We don’t want to say everything is great — but Taiwan is still moving in a good direction while other Asian countries are not.”

SPREADING THE WORD

Alviani says his first priorities are to develop a network of correspondents in the region who can provide first-hand information as well as translating all information into local languages.

“It’s important that we’re able to communicate in different languages, because the best thing we can do is to bring the problems to the attention of the public and let them decide,” he says, noting the futility of directly asking a government or organization to change their ways.

This story has been viewed 9628 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top