Nearly 200 journalists have signed a petition against a decision by the Taipei City Police Department to designate press zones during demonstrations to “protect” reporters.
The police department announced on Thursday that it plans to designate a “petition zone” and a “press zone” during rallies, and that in cases of “illegal demonstrations,” it would ask reporters to stay in the press zone for their safety and to prevent them from getting in the way when police try to disperse the crowd.
Although the police department said it made the decision after discussing it with several media organizations — including the Association of Taiwan Journalists, the Taipei Documentary Filmmakers’ Union and the Taipei Foreign Correspondents’ Club — the announcement met with strong opposition from reporters, who accused the department of restricting press freedom.
Photo: Liu Ching-hou, Taipei Times
“This is a serious deprivation of the freedom of the press,” Lu Yi-jung (呂苡榕), a reporter with the Chinese-language magazine The Journalist, told the Taipei Times. “How the news is presented to readers, from which angle and where the reporter would like to stand on the scene should be decided by the reporter.”
“If reporters have to stay in a press zone designated by the police, why don’t we just file news stories according to the police press release and have the police provide us news photos?” Lu added.
Reporters serve as the link between a news event and the audience, and they strive not only to record what is happening, but also to take the audience to the news scene, Lu said.
“Recording what happened allows the public to make their own judgement on what to hate, what to love and how to think,” Lu said. “Restricting freedom of the press is no different from fooling the public.”
Hsu Chun-feng (許純鳳), a member of the production team of a Public Television Service news commentary show, agreed, saying that the decision is a repression of the freedom of the press.
“If reporters cannot walk around freely, how can they get a full picture of what is going on?” she asked.
“In my experience, most reporters would not interfere with police actions. We respect officers who are doing their job and they should give equal respect to reporters who are also at work,” she said.
At press time last night, 198 people — 90 percent of whom are journalists and including one police officer — had signed a petition against the police department’s decision.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) was not available for comment, but his assistant, Hung Chih-kun (洪智坤), said that the city government was shocked when it saw the news on Thursday night.
Hung added that the Ko administration did not initiate the policy.
The decision was made by Taipei Police Commissioner Huang Sheng-yung (黃昇勇), who is to retire in two weeks.
“Our core value is to protect the public right to petition and protest, as well as freedom of the press. We will not take the lead in undermining such values, Hung said. “We need more public discussions about the issue and to hear what the new police commissioner has to say about it.”
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