Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers yesterday maintained that students have every right to attend meetings of legislative committees and expressed concern over one media outlet’s criticism of students’ behavior toward the education minister on Monday.
The Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday dedicated its front page and another full page to criticism of a group of university students — who, on a visit to a legislative committee meeting, had told Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) to his face that he was not qualified for the job — and DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) for turning the committee meeting into a “private courtroom” for the students to “grill” Chiang.
The Ministry of Education sent an e-mail to university authorities after student-led protests last week against a controversial Next Media Group deal. The e-mail asked universities to investigate protesters out of “concern” for their health, prompting accusations of a re-emergence of the tactics of the White Terror era.
Cheng, the convener of the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee, invited student representatives and professors who participated in the protests to attend a special session of the committee on Monday.
In response to the United Daily News coverage, Cheng yesterday said the newspaper had infringed on the students’ freedom of expression and had tried to shift the focus away from inappropriate practices at the ministry.
The students’ explanation of the chilling effect of the e-mail was the main reason why Chiang offered an apology and a four-point pledge to correct the ministry’s mistakes and ensure students’ rights to participate in protests at the meeting, Cheng said.
Cheng also expressed disappointment at a U-turn by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, saying they disagreed with the ministry’s move and supported her decision to call the special session on Monday.
“These students are citizens and adults, and we should treat them accordingly. Citizens have the freedom to express their views on public affairs, and to challenge unfairness and injustice. That is what the student movement is all about,” Cheng said, adding that if anyone oppressed the students’ freedom of expression, they were making the same mistake as the ministry.
The students’ attendance at the meeting was legal, DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said, noting that Article 67 of the Constitution stipulates that “the legislature may set up various committees and such committees may invite government officials and private persons concerned to be present at their meetings to answer questions.”
The public should appreciate the students’ courage in stepping forward and challenging authority, and the students’ comments certainly did not amount to “contempt of the legislature” as has been claimed, she said.
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said the students and professors stood on the same podium as Chiang, who returned to his seat when the students were speaking, and answered legislators’ questions, rather than “grilling” the minister.
Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) student who accused Chiang of incompetence, being hypocritical and lying about his support for the student movement, issued a statement on his Facebook page yesterday, saying that while he could have worded his responses better, he stood by the context of his comments and that the United Daily News’ claim that he had been impolite was “outrageous” and incorrect.
NTHU issued a press release yesterday, in which the school said it was disappointed at Chen’s comments and behavior. The school pulled the release from its Facebook page hours later after it was criticized.
Wang Dan (王丹), a Chinese dissident who was part of the student movement during China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 and who now teaches at NTHU, offered his support to the student protesters on his Facebook page.
Wang said he was astonished at the newspaper’s two-page coverage and its criticism of the students rather than the ministry’s misconduct.
“I’m wondering why society is so tolerant of authority, yet so critical of young people who participate in public affairs,” he said.
When reached for comment, the United Daily News said its coverage reflected the truth and that it would continue to publish stories in line with professional journalistic practices.
Additional reporting by Chao Ching-yu