For the third time in less than a year, the Taipei City Government has intervened with media reporting, raising serious concerns about its commitment to press freedom in Taiwan. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) have condemned the pattern of the city government-led intervention on media reporting and investigations, and demanded the city government immediately cease intimidation and harassment of the media.
In July 2017, from behind the podium at the Taipei–Shanghai forum in Shanghai City, China, the mayor of Taiwan’s capital city ignited a public outcry at home by making remarks about cross–strait relations, saying the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were ‘one close family’ and ‘a shared community of destiny.’
Whether or not the mayor had the language cleared by the central government has been in dispute ever since. Mr Ko insisted the National Security Council was provided a draft to his speech, while NSC said the opposite is true.
On 3 June 2018, a CTi News reporter, Chen Yun-wen, wrote a post on Facebook, claiming she had obtained Ko’s so-called draft and found no mention of those expressions, and that she prepared a segment to air on 1 June.
The segment was never aired, and she publicly accused Ko of having silenced her story. On 14 June 2018, Chen confronted Ko for a comment, Ko jokingly dismissed her inquiry by implying that he expected his team should have had her ‘taken care of’ by then. The interaction was caught on video, which Chen posted to her Facebook, but it was subsequently removed.
In the investigation report submitted to the city assembly by the Mayoral office reported on 2 August 2017, Ko positively confirmed Chen’s allegations were true. However, Chen later wrote on Facebook, saying it was no longer of her concern since she no longer holds that job.
There was another incident in January 2018, when a reporter from the Storm Media, Wang Yen-chiao, wrote a report regarding a dispute between the City Government and contractors for the upcoming lantern festival project. Almost immediately after the report was published, Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je allegedly ordered heads of departments to never respond or answer Wang’s phone calls or requests for interviews and information.
Although Ko’s reaction strongly criticized, Mr Wang, the Storm Media, and the rest of the society never received an apology. In another incident in June, Wang Zhao-bin from the Mirror Media inquired with the city government’s Department of Health regarding a breach of personal information of over 3,000 AIDS patients. The Agency responsible faxed the Mirror Media an official letter within 24 hours, ‘reminding’ them that having possession of the documents could risk legal consequences. The responsible official was disciplined only for mishandling patients’ data, but not for what may be perceived as coercing a reporter into dropping the investigation against her.
ATJ general secretary, Ian Chen, said: “There is clearly a trail that shouldn’t go unnoticed. As a result, we are left with no choice but to unreservedly condemn Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je for the repeated transgressions on journalists’ right to free reporting. However, the fact the then–employed reporter is no longer holding the same job on which she carried out the pursuit casts doubt over the level of support from media ownerships that are available to reporters. In the meantime, the mayor’s reassurance is desperately needed that neither he nor any member from his team has been in any way involved in the reporter’s departure.”
The IFJ said: “The pattern of intimidation and harassment of journalists by the Taiwan City Government raises serious questions about the freedom of the press in Taiwan, and the ability of the press to hold those in power to account. We stand in solidarity with ATJ in calling on the government to cease the harassment and boycotting of journalists for simply doing their job."
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