Wed, Aug 23, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Military officials snub lawmaker

NO COMMENT Journalists and lawmakers say that the military is pouting over negative coverage of its annual exercises, but the ministry says it wants to avoid boring reporters

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A legislator on the National Defense Committee was stood up by military officials yesterday after he invited them to a seminar to explain why the military had cut off contact with the media last month.

The Ministry of National Defense canceled its weekly press conferences last month, reportedly after receiving negative coverage of its annual Han Kuang live-fire exercise.

`Dog-and-pony show'

The exercises are tightly scripted events that act more as showpieces for politicians and journalists than as actual training programs for service members -- a "dog-and-pony show" in military jargon.

During this year's exercise, media coverage focused primarily on a series of technical glitches -- including a pair of anti-tank missiles that prematurely exploded a few hundred meters away from the president.

Senior military officials were reportedly upset by the media's focus, and not only refused to speak to journalists, but also took the unprecedented step of canceling all routine press conferences.

Complaint

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) yesterday lodged a complaint over the ministry's behavior, having invited military officials to a seminar so that the issue could be discussed publicly.

However, none of the military officials he invited showed up at the event.

"The job of reporters is to report the truth and the facts. The defense ministry should not close its doors to reporters, just because officials are not happy with what they read in the newspaper or watch on TV," Lin said.

"I hereby urge the ministry to resume its regular press conferences from next week," he said.

Lin said that other important ministries, such as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all hold routine press conference at least once a week.

"As for the Ministry of National Defense, well, when Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) was the defense minister, the ministry held weekly press conferences. After Lee Jye (李傑) took his place, the weekly press conferences were reduced to once every two weeks," he said.

"Now, after the Han Kuang military exercises last month, the press can't even get in the ministry's front door. The defense ministry should examine itself and figure out what went wrong, instead of refusing to talk to the press like this," Lin said.

A military spokesman yesterday said that the cancelation of the press conferences had nothing to do with negative media reports.

`Door is open'

"Actually, we are trying to keep from wasting reporters' time," said Major Ben Wang (王瑞隆), a public relations officer at the ministry's spokesman's office. "We figured out that most reporters were not interested in the topics of our recent press conferences. As a result, we hope to avoid boring topics so we would not waste reporters' time."

"However, our door is always open to the press," Wang said, explaining that reporters are welcome to visit the ministry or request information, so long as they receive approval in advance.

"That will save us all a lot of time," he said.

Wang said that press conferences would in future be held "when necessary."

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