… direct action requires publicity if it is to be effective. If something like the raid on the Executive Yuan this morning occurs without anyone present to document it, it will have little, if any, impact on policy decisions. Images, drama, are necessary, and journalists are in the best position to provide them.
Hence the assault on journalists, especially the growing number of reporters who are now siding with the victims rather than the government.
J. Michael Cole, in a piece on his blog about the way police in Taiwan are becoming more aggressive in handling protests and journalists covering them.
I’m not sure how wise it is to openly admit that many journalists are ‘siding with the victims’. To my mind this could be used by police authorities to argue that many ‘journalists’ attending protests are in fact also protesters in a different form; the supply and support corp in the trench behind the ‘front liners’ who confront the police.
When protests ‘randomly’ take place and police see reporters readily at hand to cover events, many of whom are personally known to some or all of the protestors, they will more likely regard all as ‘conspirators’, and trample on a range of rights, permissions and democratic conventions, many of which they are either unaware of or are simply ignoring in order ‘to get the job over and done with’.
In Taiwan, there are next to no major domestic news and media outlets, in Mandarin or English, that do not have an editorial preference for either the pan blue or pan green camps. This has set a perfect environment for escalating abuses of common rights by police and government. It is much easier to dismiss an allegation if half the media are broadcasting your defence one hundred times more often than the edited case against you. The Government is emboldened when the public come to trust none of the media but cannot escape it, or being influenced by it. When Government is emboldened like this, I fear they are more likely to ‘offer a deaf ear and a stamping boot’ when it comes to responding to protests, especially those small in scale. The US and Russia appear to also be suffering from militarising and escalating (read small doses of temporary martial law) small scale civilian disturbances.
None of this bodes well for journalists or citizens and their freedoms of movement and expression (or property rights). The current system of applying for a permit to protest and march has been a useful tool of the Government in defusing protest sentiment by simply wearing it down. Even when a quarter of a million people gather, the Government makes cursory noises about being concerned (the ‘deaf ear’) and supporting media either bury news of it or look for ways to undermine the legitimacy, authenticity and authority of it. After some personnel is shuffled, the Government continues as normal. And it is here where I think protests in Taiwan may be getting more often, smaller in scale, and both less organised (individual or small groups impromptu emotion led action) and more organised (protest groups working a strategy of ‘do not let them sleep’). In sum, when the Government isn’t listening, and Legislators are not listening, the only place left for people to get their attention is on the streets.
With police trained for confrontation, and with more disaffected people inclined to public disobedience, the triggers for greater and more brutal violent conflicts are primed. I sincerely hope that Taiwan is not going to go down the path of the criminalisation and kettling of civilians’ basic freedoms in the name of security, as it appears the UK, US, Russia, China, and many other countries have done. The responsibility for the current disturbing trend is, however, clear. The Government must call off the dogs and teach them the law, and then teach them to respect it, and then punish them if they break it, or undermine the spirit of it. Targeting journalists is the first of many obvious signs that the Government is instead seeking to blame, shame and trample (the ‘stamping boot’) opposition and that only speaks to its weakness, arrogance, cruelty, and stupidity.