The first-ever visit to Taiwan by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) came with strict restrictions on media coverage of his schedule that were imposed by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).
Among the 19 events in Zhang’s public schedule during his four-day stay that started yesterday and runs to Saturday, five are off-limits to press — an official meeting with MAC Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) followed by a dinner reception hosted by the council yesterday, a meeting with academics scheduled today, a discussion with students at I-Shou University and an informal chat over tea with Wang on Friday.
Except Zhang’s separate meetings with New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and Greater Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), all the other engagements he is to have in the three cities and Changhua County are open to a small portion of reporters who had the luck of the draw.
According to the council, a total of 415 reporters had registered to cover Zhang’s visit, including reporters from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Macau and international media outlets.
However, the council is limiting the number of reporters allowed to cover the schedules and limiting access.
Reporters who did not win the lot to join two privileged groups, group A or group B, the quota for which is 26, are to be denied access to the activities, even though all the registered reporters were given media accreditation by the council for Zhang’s visit.
Reporters who won entry to group A or group B are to have seats on the buses provided by the council to travel with Zhang, but reporters in each of the groups are excluded from certain stops the other group can cover.
The restrictions drew the ire of reporters when the council announced the rules on Tuesday.
Asked for a response yesterday, a council official said on condition of anonymity that reporters are denied access to cover Zhang’s meetings with local academics and students because the TAO has requested that the meetings be held behind closed doors.
To accommodate Zhang’s tight schedule and some venues with limited space, the council had no alternative but to impose the restrictions on the number of reporters covering some of Zhang’s events, he said, adding that reporters who are not able cover the events can download video files or photographs from a file transfer protocol (FTP) site.
“Whatever happens in any event with limited access, all reporters will be able to get the whole situation by using the FTP even though they are not on the ground,” the official said.
Asked if reporters would have access to the restricted events if they travel to the venues of the events on their own, the official said that they could be stopped by the police out of security concerns.
The council issued a statement yesterday rebutting allegations by the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) that it had tried to muzzle freedom of press.
It said that the restrictions were made to “keep reporters covering Zhang’s activities in order.”