Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 3 News List

SUNFLOWER ANNIVERSARY: ‘Stupid’ protest press zone rule scrapped

By Abraham Gerber and Lii Wen  /  Staff reporters

Plans to force reporters and photographers to remain in so-called “press zones” during demonstrations have been scrapped, the Taipei City Police Department said yesterday.

Police Department Deputy Commissioner and spokesman Chou Shou-sung (周壽松) said the city had decided that reporters should be allowed to cover demonstrations “in the current manner without any restrictions.”

“The mayor placed a great emphasis on [reporters’] opinions and there was also the consideration that reporters have a right to know when they cover the news,” he said.

Rules announced in early January requiring reporters at rallies to stay in designated press zones — reportedly for their own safety — were quickly put on hold in the face of widespread criticism that being confined in a specified zone would interfere with coverage.

At the time, associates of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said the new rules had been formulated by the administration of former mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), with Ko saying in an interview that he could not understand how the department could come up with such a “stupid policy.”

However, Ko stirred further controversy with a proposal that reporters be required to wear special identifying vests during rallies.

Reporters said that wearing the vests would make them identifiable to anyone doing anything illegal or clandestine, detracting from coverage.

Chou said that instead of requiring reporters to wear special vests, the police department would now require its media liaison staff to wear identifying vests at rallies so that reporters could easily find them if they had questions or needed help.

Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club president Jane Rickards, a correspondent for the Economist, said that she views the decision in a positive way.

“Obviously we’re very pleased that the Taipei City Government and Taipei Police Department have made this decision. We felt the policy they were considering was not conducive to media freedom and did not help with the work that correspondents do,” she said.

Last month, the club issued a statement saying that the pending regulations might “unintentionally damage the spirit of press freedom present in Taiwan to the exclusion of the majority of Asian countries.”

However, Hsu Chun-feng (許純鳳), a production member of a Public Television Service talk show, said that it was not enough to cancel the rule, adding that the police still “lack respect toward journalists’ duty in reporting the news.”

She said that many journalists were blocked from entering the scene of a protest on Monday when laid-off toll collectors stormed the apartment building where Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) lives.

“Even without the press zones or press vests, the most important thing is that the police must remember reporters are at work too,” Hsu said, adding that reporters should be ensured access when they provide identification.

In January, Hsu was among a group of journalists who launched a petition against the proposed press zones, which garnered the support of more than 600 journalists within a week.

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