Thursday, December 23, 2010

Press Freedom, Please Circulate

Mile High Cafe atop 130 in Miaoli.

This is being passed around:


Dear Friends of Taiwan,

I would like to bring to your attention an amendment that is currently making its way through the Legislative Yuan that if passed could have a profound effect on press freedom, and consequently change the way news is reported in Taiwan.

The offending article is part of proposed amendments to the Children and Youth Welfare Act and the Physically and Mentally Disabled Citizens Protection Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法) that are being pushed by an NGO called the Child Welfare League Foundation (兒童福利聯盟文教基金會) with the help of the Ministry of the Interior’s Child welfare Bureau. (內政部兒童局)

The article of concern (No.44) is translated into English below (a Chinese copy is also available):

“Article 44: News publications and programs should not carry the following content which would be harmful to the healthy mental development of children or adolescents: Describing (or illustrating) crimes, the use of drugs, detailed descriptions or illustrations of the act of suicide. Describing or illustrating violence, bloodshed, pornographic sexuality, lewdness or forced sex in detail.”

Article 90 goes on to state that offenders (those in charge of the newspaper or news channels) will be fined between NT$100,000 and NT$500,000 for each offense.

I believe the amendments have passed the first reading in the LY and are currently in the committee stage after being sent back for revisions (more than once). The NGO however is apparently unwilling to drop or amend the offending article.

The passage of the amendments (and therefore the article) is troublesome for a number of reasons:

1) The idea of censoring news in any way is an attack on press freedom.

2) An NGO ostensibly acting on behalf of children should not be allowed to affect the way a whole nation receives its news.

3) Censoring news detail that is deemed unfit for children also means adults are prevented from reading or viewing the same content.

4) The article’s definition of the potential offence(s) is entirely arbitrary and open to widely differing interpretations.

5) It would takes away a news organizations right to self-censorship

While it is undoubted that the intentions behind such an amendment are noble, it is hard to believe that the NGO believes that by avoiding reporting on problematic social issues that those issues will go away.

The potential effect of this proposed amendment can be judged by the fact that nearly all the major newspapers are united in their opposition to it (a rare occurrence indeed as anyone familiar with Taiwan’s media environment will agree.)

The Taipei Newspaper Association is working on a statement against the article (But I don’t have details of when it will come out.)

The Interior Minister will chair a public hearing about the amendment Monday Dec 27th.

A list of contacts is included below to help anyone interested in the story. [MT: I will provide a list of contact info to people who want it, but I won't publish it here.]

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MJ Klein said...

Michael, is this another example of foreigner interference?

SoCalExpat said...

While I don't approve of censorship of political views, I must say that the things they show on the evening news in Taiwan is appaling. My American friends are always amazed when they come to my house and watch Taiwanese news. The consensus is the FCC in the US would never allow such tasteless images and stories on prime time and I don't hear anyone accusing the US government of censorship.
I think some reasonable limits for the sake of decency is appropriate.

Michael Turton said...

Oh yes, SoCal. So much of news here is EmotionPorn or AccidentPorn or similar. Stuff like this wouldn't appear on the legislative radar unless there was something to it.

Marc said...

I must say that the things they show on the evening news in Taiwan is appaling.

You should watch Italian news!

So, maybe I'm missing something but when I watch the local Taiwan TV news about blood, gore, rape, incest, murder, etc., all I see is fuzzy videos, badly shot, and with faces and guts blurred out. Is there something out there more graphic that has escaped my attention?

Of course, Apple Daily has those cartoons showing violent crimes, but I'd hardly call them realistic or disturbing, except in a kind of comic book way, like when Archie tries to date Veronica and she slaps him.

Also, what's this about protecting kids from violence and porn when Taiwan manufactures blood and gore and boobs video games?

And won't kids more likely encounter porn of any type on the Net? The only porn I read and see in the news is political.

And if they're going to censor the news, does this mean that next thing that will happen is that we won't being seeing Saw #29 in our Taiwan movies theatres any time in the near future?

Chip said...

I suspect you may have been facetious about angling vs. fishing, but I can rarely resist an opportunity for pedantry. Angling is related to the word "angle," one of the early meanings of which was hook. Ta da!