Mon, Mar 25, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Liu case controversy: `Next' raid pits media against government

BALANCING RIGHTS Government officials are stressing the importance of maintaining national security, while scholars and the media fear press freedom has been violated

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

While government officials said that national interests should outweigh press freedom, media workers and scholars believe that press freedom must be protected and that the public has a right to know the truth.

Lawmakers, however, said that there should be a law or independent office to protect both press freedom and national security.

The raid by the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office on Next magazine last Wednesday sparked a discussion on the importance of national security and press freedom.

Last Wednesday, the Chinese-language newspaper China Times printed stories about two secret funds worth more than NT$3.5 billion belonging to the National Security Bureau (NSB). The articles appeared on the newspaper's front page as well as on its second and third pages.

The stories prompted the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors' Office last Friday to charge Huang Ching-lung (黃清龍), the editor in chief of the newspaper, with breaching national security.

Paparazzi style

Next magazine, a tabloid publication known for its paparazzi style reporting, also carried a story about the two secret funds in last Thursday's edition. The story also mentioned the alleged embezzlement of more than NT$192 million by former NSB chief cashier Colonel Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍) in 2000.

Prosecutors then raided the magazine's Hsintien office, its printing plant in Taoyuan and the apartment of Hsieh Zhong-liang (謝忠良), the senior reporter who wrote the story. They also confiscated 160,000 copies of the edition at these three locations.

Hsieh was charged with the same violation as Huang last Thursday. The prosecutors' office has ordered Hsieh to answer questions next Thursday about who tipped him off about the two secret NSB accounts.

Local media immediately protested the charges citing press freedom and said that the public has the right to know the truth, especially as it pertains to scandals and corruption.

Ku Ling-ling (谷玲玲), a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at National Taiwan University, said that the raid was an obvious violation of press freedom -- something shameful for a democratic government.

The right to know

"I'm sorry for this," she said. "People have the right to know the truth. Honestly, I can't believe that a thing like this could happen today in Taiwan.

"I think it goes without saying that media workers should protest against this because it was against democracy."

Yu Chia-chang (余佳璋), president of the Association of Taiwan Journalists (台灣記者協會), said that foreign countries' views toward Taiwan's democracy is the thing that worries him most.

"Press freedom is actually an important index for democracy," Yu said. "An Austrian senior reporter talked to me few days ago. He was quite surprised that Taiwan's government would do something like this to violate press freedom because Taiwan has been a democratic country in his mind for years.

"Now what would he think of us?" he added.

The Ministry of Justice, however, said that the magazine and the newspaper stories might have damaged Taiwan's intelligence system, which is supposed to remain secret.

National interests

In response to the media workers' argument, Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) said that press freedom should not be unlimited, adding that prosecutors will charge anybody who endangers national security because the nation's interests should be put first.

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