Fri, Feb 06, 2009 - Page 3 News List

MOFA defends changes to press conference minutes

By Jenny W. hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Altering the official minutes of press conferences by deleting phrases or questions from reporters does not constitute censorship, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) told the Taipei Times yesterday when confronted about changes the ministry’s press officers made to the record of last Tuesday’s weekly briefing.

“It’s not censorship. We just take out phrases or words that are not so appropriate,” said Joanne Ou (歐江安), section chief of the Department of Information and Culture Affairs, which handles press relations.

Ou did not clarify the ministry’s definition of “inappropriate.”

MOFA spokesman Henry Chen (陳銘政) said that since the minutes were for public viewing, the ministry usually “polished” the content.

However, a MOFA official speaking on condition of anonymity said that during the previous administration, alterations to the minutes were mainly restricted to correcting verbal slips and slang.

On Tuesday, the Department of Central and South American Affairs reported on developments in the nation’s diplomatic efforts in the region. After the department made about two minutes of minor announcements, the Taipei Times asked department Deputy Director-General Diego Chou (周麟) for details.

Chou said he had nothing more to report. Latin America is the nation’s diplomatic stronghold, with 12, or more than half, of its allies.

Asked about the nation’s future prospects in the region, Chou said: “If you really want, I could tell you what we did last month.”

The reporter then asked why — unlike the heads of other MOFA departments — Director-General Joseph Kuo (郭永樑) of the Latin America division rarely attended media briefings, to which Chou replied: “You would have to ask him.”

When another reporter asked Chou to share his thoughts on the presidential elections in El Salvador and Panama, two of the nation’s allies, Chou declined to discuss the stances of the candidates on relations with Taiwan, but suggested reporters read the news to follow the races.

In the minutes posted on the ministry’s Web site, much of the exchanges between Chou and the reporters were altered or deleted.

The question on the director-general’s attendance record was deleted, as was Chou’s suggestion that he talk about what the department did last month rather than discussing future developments.

On the elections in El Salvador and Panama, the minutes claimed Chou had responded: “The wires have many reports on it already and we are not in a position to comment on our allies’ elections.”

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