10/26/2009, 00.00
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Peace with Beijing, jeopardising press freedom

Reporters Without Borders drops Taiwan by 23 places, accusing the government of putting pressure on media to avoid irritating mainland China. President Ma continues on his path of reconciliation.
Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Taiwan's efforts to cement ties with the mainland could undermine its free press. For independent observers, press freedom will not survive if some issues are treated as taboos.

Concern on the island has grown after Taiwan's ranking fell 23 places to 59th in this year's press-freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Paris-based media watchdog. According to the index, the drop has left Taiwan trailing Hong Kong, Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso.

In one example of the problems Taiwan's journalists say they face, a reporter complained about pressure from the authorities when covering an exiled mainland dissident's visit to the island.

“They told me he's a `bad guy' who likes to brag, so why bother writing about him,” the reporter said. “They believe they are doing the right thing for the big picture, for the greater good of history.”

While Reporters Without Borders said Taiwan's press freedom was not in danger, it attributed the downgrading partly to the ruling party's attempt to interfere in the media.

“The state must take action to improve records and prevent restrictions, violence or any sort of obstacle to media freedom," said Vincent Brossel, head of RSF Asia desk.

Taiwan's government, which took office in May last year pledging a more pro-Beijing stance than its predecessor, has denied interfering.

“We did not see any media being pressured for criticising the government when it was not doing enough,” cabinet spokesman Su Jun-pin said. Still, the “government humbly accepted the criticism.”

But the real problem is that “More media outlets are self-censoring on sensitive issues such as the Dalai Lama or [Uygur leader] Rebiya Kadeer by downplaying their coverage or focusing on negative angles,” said Leon Chuang, head of the Association of Taiwan Journalists.

Whatever the case may be, Taipei’s new openness towards China is undeniably leading to many changes on the island. A proposed free trade agreement with the mainland said to be ready for signing at the end of this month has been met by ambivalence among ordinary Taiwanese. Many fear that allowing Chinese economic interests into the island will undermine its democracy.

Still President Ma Ying-jeou is set to continue on his path. Speaking at a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of a battle against Communist forces, he said, "In the face of a new light shedding on the rapprochement, we will continue with sincerity, dispersing hatred and confrontation through exchanges and negotiations.”

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