Sun, Mar 24, 2002 - Page 3 News List

President asked to clarify position

FROM THE TOP KMT and PFP legislators suggested inviting President Chen Shui-bian to the legislature to explain his government's position on press freedom

By Lin Miao-Jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

KMT lawmaker John Chang, third left, invites several colleagues and scholars to discuss the recent dispute over national security and press freedom at a press conference at the legislature yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The Legislative Yuan should invite President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to its joint-committee public hearings to clarify the government's stance on national security and press freedom, PFP lawmaker Pang Chien-kuo (龐建國) suggested yesterday.

The call comes following the government's controversial confiscation of 160,000 copies of Next magazine on Wednesday.

Authorities claimed the magazine had jeopardized the nation's national security by revealing the existence of two secret accounts set up at the National Security Bureau (NSB).

Pang made the request at a press conference held by KMT lawmaker John Chang (章孝嚴) to discuss the recent controversy over national security and press freedom.

According to the Constitution, the head of state is not subject to interpellation by the Legislative Yuan. Nor is the Legislative Yuan empowered to oversee the intelligence activities of the executive branch.

The NSB accounts were reportedly initiated by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) for diplomatic missions and intelligence activities.

The raid on Next magazine not only stunned the local media but also drew the attention of the US government and media.

The US State Department issued a statement on Friday saying that the department "has seen reports of the March 20 raid by Taiwan prosecutors on the offices of Next magazine" and "will be following it closely."

The New York Times on Friday published an article entitled "Taiwanese officials confiscate copies of magazine in raid," criticizing the controversial move.

The article said: "The crackdown has alarmed the news media in Taiwan, which has become a boisterous symbol of the island's evolution from a police state to one of Asia's most vibrant democracies."

Responding to the US criticism, Chang said that it was a shame that the DPP government was backpedaling on its commitment to democracy.

"The incident has seriously damaged both Taiwan's national interests and international image," he said.

Pang suggested that the legislature should invite the president to attend a joint-committee public hearing to shed some light on the government's stance on the matter.

"Since it is highly unlikely that a monitoring mechanism will be established in the legislature to oversee the secret accounts created for intelligence activities anytime soon, I thought it would be a good idea to invite the president to tell us where the government stands," he said.

Ku Ling-ling (谷玲玲), a journalism professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at National Taiwan University, agreed.

"There is a fine line between national security and press freedom," she said.

"Unless the media exercises self-discipline, similar raids may happen again.

"It's about time for the president to come out and say something."

The raid on Next magazine was the third prosecutors have ordered on media organizations during the past two years.

In October 2000, law enforcement officers raided the offices of the China Times Express, looking for documents allegedly containing information about a secret NSB account.

On Dec. 19 last year, law enforcement officers raided Scoop Weekly, which had published a pornographic video CD allegedly featuring former New Party Taipei City councilor Chu Mei-feng (璩美鳳) having sex with her married lover.

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