CROSS-STRAIT TALKS: ATJ accuses government of violating press freedom

APOLOGY DEMANDED: While the press body criticized scuffles between reporters and security personnel, international media did not seem to have a large presence

By Loa Iok-sin And J. Michael Cole  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Wed, Nov 05, 2008 - Page 3

The Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) released a statement on Monday accusing the government of restricting press freedom as it prepared to welcome Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).

At least two verbal and physical clashes have occurred between local journalists and law enforcement personnel safeguarding Chen and other members of the ARATS delegation since they arrived on Monday.

Cheng Chieh-wen (鄭傑文), a photojournalist affiliated with the Central News Agency (CNA), was dragged away by national security agents at the Grand Hotel on Sunday while he was standing within the designated press area.

Yesterday, reporters engaged in verbal disputes with security officers over press areas that had been changed without prior notice.

“The ATJ strongly condemns security personnel for violently dragging and pushing reporters, and demands that the government explain such incidents and apologize to the CNA journalist,” the statement said.

“Press freedom cannot be compromised,” the ATJ statement said. “Although press passes had been issued to journalists, security officials still intervened and restricted media access. We regret such severe violations of press freedom.”

The ATJ urged the Government Information Office to better arrange media areas to protect press freedom during the next few days of Chen’s visit.

In related news, the Mainland Affairs Council said on Monday that more than 500 local and foreign reporters from 138 media outlets had received approval to cover Chen’s visit.

Among the 574 who received accreditation, 30 were from China, it said, adding that several major foreign news outlets were also covering the event.

However, a survey of major news outlets by the Taipei Times yesterday showed that the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Guardian newspapers relied on Edward Wong’s reporting from Beijing, while Canada’s Globe and Mail and the Australian relied on reporting by Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse respectively. France’s Le Monde, the US-based Christian Science Monitor and UK-based Independent were not covering the event.

While the BBC carried a report with a Taipei dateline, CBS News and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp did not report on the event, while CNN relied on AP and Qatar-based al-Jazeera used various news agencies.

The majority of major international news outlets — those that have the budgets to dispatch reporters to cover special events — therefore did not send a correspondent.

Meanwhile, asked by the Taipei Times to comment on the number of foreign correspondents present at major Chen venues, such as the Grand Hotel and Taipei 101, Taipei Foreign Correspondents Club president Max Hirsch said it was in “the few dozens,” adding that he had dealt with “many complaints” by foreign reporters about lack of access to the venues.