Regardless of whether they support or oppose revisions to the Children and Juvenile Welfare Act (兒童及少年福利法) that would restrict media freedom to report on violent crimes, government officials, media reform activists and academics all seem to agree that self-regulation within media organizations is the best way to address the problem.
The legislature passed an initial review last month on a law barring media from reporting details of crimes, suicide or drug use to avoid their “negative influences” on children and juveniles.
Although the revision only passed an initial review and has yet to become law, it has triggered criticism from many academics and media organizations, who regard the revision as unconstitutional and a violation of freedom of the press.
“There’s no news that cannot be reported. Too many restrictions would only limit the public’s right to know,” Kuang Chung-shiang (管中祥), chairman of Media Watch and an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University’s department of communications, told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.
While some news reports sometimes cross the fine line between freedom of the press and rights -violations, the best way to resolve the problem is through self--regulation on the part of the media, not the law, he said.
“Of course there can be restrictions on reports to protect the rights of individuals who are involved in the news, but the amendment is too vague,” Kuang said. “When the law is too vague, the restriction can become superficial and somewhat ridiculous — you can see that when parts of artwork have to be covered [or pixilated] on TV because they contain nudity.”
Association of Taiwan Journalists chairman Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) said freedom of the press should come first.
“My basic view is that protection of children should not be realized at the expense of freedom of the press,” he said. “I also do not believe that government’s involvement in this issue can actually protect the rights of children and juveniles.”
Although he said it was difficult to trust the government, Yang said there was also a lack of self--regulation in media organizations.
“Rather than put the issue in the hands of government, it would be better if representatives of the media and civic groups got together and came up with a -solution,” he said.
For her part, Child Welfare Bureau director-general Chang Hsiu-yuan (張秀鴛) said she supported the amendment.
“Press freedom is important, but it cannot be without limits,” Chang told the Taipei Times by telephone. “The purpose of a news report should be enhancing the public interest and protecting the public’s right to know.”
“Some news reports do provide [this], [but others] only satisfy the audience’s voyeurism instinct,” she said.
When news reports reveal too many details about a crime or suicide, it is no different from teaching people how to commit a crime or suicide, she said.
However, like media representatives, Chang said the best way to deal with the problem was through self-regulation by the media.
“TV news channels are doing a very good job at self-regulation and I hope that one day newspapers will come up with self--discipline mechanisms of their own,” she said.
Children’s Welfare League Foundation executive director Alicia Wang (王育敏) said she also supported the amendment and that there should be a classification -system for newspapers.
“Society is composed of both adults and minors; the rights of both groups should be protected,” Wang said. “There’s classification by age on TV programs, movies and books. Why shouldn’t the same system apply for newspapers?”
Most news outlets are good at self-regulation, she said, and only a few have crossed the line.
“It’s better if there’s a red line that’s clearly defined by law … a common bottom line for all,” Wang said, adding that she might withdraw her support for the amendment if print media established an effective self-regulatory mechanism.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official in charge of children and juvenile affairs told the Taipei Times that most news organizations — including TV and newspapers — were generally doing well in avoiding publishing too many details on crimes.
“The only exception is the Chinese-language Apple Daily, the official said. “I would say that it would be appropriate to call this amendment an ‘Apple Daily clause.’”
“The Apple Daily is like the small piece of mouse dropping that ruined the whole pot of porridge,” the official said.
Amid the controversy over the amendment, the Ministry of the Interior called a public hearing on the matter attended by academics, media representatives, activists and officials. In the meeting, the participants all agreed that self--regulation should come before legal restrictions.
At the end of the meeting, Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said the government would revise the contents of the proposed amendment to ensure a milder approach is adopted toward the media when violations occur, such as warnings and fines.
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