I would like to take a break from my (semi-)regularly scheduled posts about furry things and food to talk about an extremely important issue in Taiwan – the erosion of press freedom.
Proposed amendments to the Children and Youth Welfare Act (兒童及少年福利法) – which passed their first legislative reading last month – are so broadly worded that almost any journalist working in Taiwan can be prosecuted under them if they pass into law. For more information, read this article that my colleague Noah Buchan published in Monday’s Taipei Times.
As the article states, “at the heart of the controversy is Article 44 of the proposed amendments, which would ban newspapers from publishing stories and pictures describing ‘crimes, the use of drugs, suicide … bloodshed, erotica, lewdness or forced sex in detail.’”
These are all things we’d like to shelter kids from, right? Well, Liu Ching-yi (劉靜怡), an associate professor at the Graduate Institute of National Development at National Taiwan University interviewed by Noah, notes the very problematic use of weasel words in the amendment:
“What do they mean by details? To what extent are you going to make these kinds of descriptions illegal? There is no precedence for newspapers. In [Taiwan’s] law, pornography is not illegal per se. Obscenity is illegal — but erotica (色情) is used a lot in Article 44 … That is very difficult for judges to interpret.”
The definition of 色情 is so vague that anything could fall under its purview.
Take these Taipei Times articles I have written over the last couple of years: one about a fetish wear company, a profile of a Red Dot Design Award winning sex toy maker (they’ve since moved to a new address, a short piece on a Japanese burlesque performer, another one about a burlesque troupe and a feature on a kathoey (or ladyboy) troupe from Thailand.
Under the proposed amendments, any of these articles can potentially get me fined NT$100,000 to NT$500,000.
If lifestyle articles about saucy Valentine’s Day gift ideas and tongue-in-cheek performances can be persecuted under the amendments, then can you imagine how difficult they will make reporting for an investigative journalist covering, say, a politician who repeatedly hires prostitute? Other examples I can think of off the top of my head: A first hand account by a victim of incest. An article about sex therapy for couples. An investigation into sex abuse by clergy members. Photos of revelers in sassy get-ups at a gay pride parade. An article about female circumcision that goes into detail about the “surgical” procedures used.
Noah’s article notes that the the backers of the amendments to the Children and Youth Welfare Act cite the 2007 publication of photos showing a zoo veterinarian’s severed arm in a crocodile’s mouth as an example of what they want to prevent. While the pics are gory and certainly something I would never show a child, I think this is also a very foolish and shortsighted excuse to give for radically limiting press freedom.
I try to keep my political beliefs off this blog as much as possible, but press freedom is a topic that I feel very strongly about. And this is not a partisan issue – every major newspaper across the political spectrum in Taiwan has come out against the amendment. When the United Daily (聯合報), the Liberty Times (自由時報) and the Apple Daily (蘋果日報), among others, all agree on an issue, you know something is up.
For more information, read the Taipei Times’ article, which also puts the amendments into a wider historical context by noting its similarities to the Publishing Law (出版法), which was only repealed in 1999. Or check out this post and this post on The View From Taiwan.
On a related topic: Do you live in NYC? Are you interested in education reporting? Then you might be interested in this article I wrote in graduate school about the ridiculous — and often illegal — restrictions placed on education reporters. Obviously, I no longer live in NYC and education is not my current beat, but I salute education reporters in NYC. They really have one of the hardest — and most important — journalism jobs out there. I wonder if things will change now that Joel Klein is being succeeded by a former media executive.