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With president vowing safeguards, Lu favors realistic press freedoms

President Chen Shui-bian yesterday pledged to safeguard the freedom of the press as Vice President Annette Lu criticized press freedom in Taiwan for shaking the foundation of the nation.

In the continuing debate on the issue, Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan said the media's report on the government's national security funds has violated the law of the nation while opposition parties attacked the government's raids on media companies.

But opposition lawmakers demanded the protection of press freedom and an investigation into possible wrongdoing by national leaders in the handling of the secret funds.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently denounced the Taiwan government's seizure of copies of Next Magazine on national security grounds.

CPJ executive director Ann Cooper sent a letter to President Chen Shui-bian on March 20 to urge him to guarantee that his administration will not use national security concerns as a pretext to censor reporting.

The Presidential Office yesterday released the contents of Chen's return letter to the CPJ. In the letter, President Chen recounted his personal campaign for freedom of the press and human rights.

Chen said that none can undermine the democracy on the grounds of national security, and that national security should not be used as an excuse to harm press freedom.

He also stressed that in the delicate balance between national security and press freedom, his government will not sacrifice any one of them for the sake of safeguarding the other.

Attending a book publishing ceremony, Vice President Lu stressed that the "common freedom of the 23 million people in Taiwan is national security."

She said the freedom earned through ceaseless fighting when Taiwan was still under the rule of martial law is not the freedom that was hoped for. She said that today's freedom has already shaken the foundation of the nation. She said every person should be responsible for national security.

Lu said people in Taiwan should do some soul searching about the abuse of press freedom. She stressed that such freedom should not endanger the nation's security.

When asked by a Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker about his opinions concerning international media reports on the government's raids on media companies in Taiwan, Justice Minister Chen said there are misunderstandings on the part of the foreign organizations.

Chen said the freedom of the press in Taiwan has been seriously abused. Concerning the reports on the government's national security funds, he said, the press has violated the law of the nation.

While endorsing President Chen's pledge for all-out efforts to safeguard press freedom, lawmakers of the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) also pointed out that the government has raided media companies three times within one year, hiding behind reasons of national security to suppress the freedom of press.

One of them said that as people in Taiwan are still suffering from high levels of discontent, they want to know the truth behind the secret funds. However, a newspaper and a magazine where raided as a result.

The other said that the absence of supervision over the secret government operations will only bring long-term harm to the country. 

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