Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Experts consider conflict between media, security

FREEDOM VS SECURITY Observers said that both the government and the press were at fault, as some officials sought to use the media for their own ends

By Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Veteran media figures and political observers said yesterday that government officials should not use the media as a tool to disclose false or unnecessary information.

They made the comments at a conference held to evaluate whether local media crossed the line when covering President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent diplomatic trip to Latin America.

The conference, entitled "Media Freedom and National Security," was held by the Broadcasting Development Fund and primarily aimed to discuss possible guidelines for the media to follow when dealing with news concerning national security.

Most participants at the event felt the media had not acted out of line when reporting on Chen's trip.

Media figures present at the conference were all experienced political commentators.

Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), an assistant research fellow in political science at Academia Sinica, said that because of the nation's unique diplomatic situation, every time a government official visits a country that does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the media feels the need to cover such events.

However, the government has the right to keep certain information secret to prevent China from exerting too much pressure on the host nation, Hsu said.

The problem is that there is a lack of communication between Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and the media, he said.

"The media is often used as a tool by the ministry to disclose information, and at times, false information," Hsu said. "The media should not be used in this way."

Political commentator Chen Li-hung (陳立宏) said that cleavages between government officials often caused classified information to be revealed to the media.

One official might reveal information about a colleague to the media, which did not mind being used because it would mean getting a scoop, said Chen, himself a seasoned journalist.

"Because of commercialization, the media is very competitive and is often criticized by officials for this reason," he said. "But the government has done nothing concrete to regulate the media either."

"Also, the media is blamed for reporting classified information even when officials themselves disclose the details," Chen said.

Chen added that certain reporters had very close relationships with national security and foreign ministry officials and so were able obtain classified information from them.

The media should put national security before commercial competition, even if the information is handed to them, he said.

Political commentator and veteran media figure Yang Hsien-hung (楊憲宏) said national security and media freedom should not be in conflict with each other.

"As long as the media pursues values such as democracy, freedom, and human rights and reports for the wellbeing of the public, then the media will not pose a threat to national security," Yang said.

Connie Lin (林育卉), director of the fund, said that although the media was not to be blamed for disclosing the transit stops Chen made during his recent trip, it should have balanced its coverage.

News reports should not only be focused on guessing Chen's destinations, Lin said.

For example, the media reported negatively about Chen's decision to transit in Libya. But afterwards, when the US announced that it would reestablish ties with Libya, the media did not acknowledge that Chen may made the visit because he knew of the US plan beforehand, she said.

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