The Taipei City Government’s pending plans to encourage journalists to wear “press vests” during mass demonstrations has provoked resistance from foreign correspondents working in Taiwan, adding to a debate that has raged since early last month.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) said the potential regulations — in which journalists are advised to wear readily identifiable press vests or face eviction along with protesters in areas being cleared by police — are unnecessary and would stifle the freedom of the press.
Despite earlier government announcements that said the press vests were meant to “protect” journalists during mass protests, the TFCC said that individual journalists and media organizations should bear full responsibility for their own safety, adding that the choice to self-identify or not also served as a means of protection.
The group said it would be “inappropriate” for the government to take on the burden of protecting journalists, since it was the duty of the media to report on the government’s actions.
Club president Jane Rickards, a correspondent for The Economist, told the Taipei Times that 17 journalists from foreign media organizations participated in a forum on Jan. 14 to discuss their stance on the issue, following a brief presentation by officials from the city government.
She said that the statement largely conveyed the consensus of the forum, as well as e-mails and online discussions among foreign correspondents, adding that the new regulations led to “quite some feelings” among members of the club since they were announced.
She added that it was important to protect Taiwan’s current freedom of the press and “amazing” democratic achievements.
The club’s statement is the latest opposition toward a new protocol suggested by Taipei City Police Department on Jan. 1, which was proposed in a bid to regulate the media during mass demonstrations — such as the Sunflower movement in March and April last year.
Several proposals in the new protocol drew mixed responses from local reporters, including a plan that advised reporters to stay in designated “press zones” during protests, where they would receive additional protection, or face the risk of eviction.
While Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) later said the police department’s plans for press zones were “stupid” and postponed them, his support for related plans for reporters to wear press vests was met with equal resistance.
Rickards said that she opposed both proposals, as they prevented journalists from conveying the full picture of a demonstration.
There was “a big difference” between readily showing one’s identification card to interviewees and being visible in the crowd, she said.
“A journalist’s job is to expose what is going on and shine light upon the action,” she said, adding that if journalists wear press vests, they would be easily spotted by “whoever is creating actions they do not want people to know about,” which might include anything from criminal activities to police brutality.
“With the [press] zones it’s the same thing, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the action, because you won’t have a bird’s eye view of the rally,” she said.
Taipei Police Department Deputy Commissioner and spokesman Chou Shou-sung (周壽松) told the Taipei Times yesterday that plans for press zones and press vests are still under discussion and that specific details would be announced only after a consensus was reached with the Association of Taiwan Journalists.
Additional reporting by Abraham Gerber
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