Experts consider conflict between media, security FREEDOM VS SECURITY: Observers said that both the government and the press were at fault, as some officials sought to use the media for their own ends By Jean Lin
STAFF REPORTER Veteran media figures and political observers said yesterday that government officials should not use the media as a tool to disclose false or unnecessary information.
They made the comments at a conference held to evaluate whether local media crossed the line when covering President Chen Shui-bian's recent diplomatic trip to Latin America.
The conference, entitled "Media Freedom and National Security," was held by the Broadcasting Development Fund and primarily aimed to discuss possible guidelines for the media to follow when dealing with news concerning national security.
Most participants at the event felt the media had not acted out of line when reporting on Chen's trip.
Media figures present at the conference were all experienced political commentators.
Hsu Yung-ming, an assistant research fellow in political science at Academia Sinica, said that because of the nation's unique diplomatic situation, every time a government official visits a country that does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the media feels the need to cover such events.
However, the government has the right to keep certain information secret to prevent China from exerting too much pressure on the host nation, Hsu said.
The problem is that there is a lack of communication between Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and the media, he said.
"The media is often used as a tool by the ministry to disclose information, and at times, false information," Hsu said. "The media should not be used in this way."
Political commentator Chen Li-hung said that cleavages between government officials often caused classified information to be revealed to the media.
One official might reveal information about a colleague to the media, which did not mind being used because it would mean getting a scoop, said Chen, himself a seasoned journalist.
"Because of commercialization, the media is very competitive and is often criticized by officials for this reason," he said. "But the government has done nothing concrete to regulate the media either."
"Also, the media is blamed for reporting classified information even when officials themselves disclose the details," Chen said.
Chen added that certain reporters had very close relationships with national security and foreign ministry officials and so were able obtain classified information from them.
The media should put national security before commercial competition, even if the information is handed to them, he said.
Political commentator and veteran media figure Yang Hsien-hung said national security and media freedom should not be in conflict with each other.
"As long as the media pursues values such as democracy, freedom, and human rights and reports for the wellbeing of the public, then the media will not pose a threat to national security," Yang said.
Connie Lin, director of the fund, said that although the media was not to be blamed for disclosing the transit stops Chen made during his recent trip, it should have balanced its coverage.
News reports should not only be focused on guessing Chen's destinations, Lin said.
For example, the media reported negatively about Chen's decision to transit in Libya. But afterwards, when the US announced that it would reestablish ties with Libya, the media did not acknowledge that Chen may made the visit because he knew of the US plan beforehand, she said.
Armed forcees need to stand alone By James Holmes There's a silver lining to the US' standoffish attitude toward military-to-military contacts with Taiwan: it discourages the Taiwanese military from growing too dependent on US support. The dominant partner in unequal alliances tends to subsume the interests and preferences of junior partners. Lacking a formal relationship with Washington, Taipei must trust in itself as it formulates policy and devises a strategy and forces to attain its policy goals.
Being forced to fend for yourself has its advantages. Taipei should capitalize on them.
Strategic thinking -- roughly speaking, the art of using history and theory to grapple with today's security challenges -- is in decline in the US national security community. Cutbacks in military education only compound the problem. Last year US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld instructed senior defense officials to "come up with some options how we might shorten professional military education or abbreviate it during stress periods."
There are two risks here. One, rising leaders will have too little time in the classroom to master military history or great works of strategic theory such as Clausewitz's On War and China's Seven Military Classics. And two, curriculum developers are eliminating history and theory in an effort to make military officers' coursework more "practical." As a result, even the time officers do spend in study will leave them ill-equipped to think deeply about their profession.
Their ability to ask the right questions about strategic dilemmas will suffer.
No doubt the exigencies of the moment -- Iraq, Afghanistan, the global counterterrorist campaign -- prodded Rumsfeld to curtail professional military education. The armed forces -- particularly the US Army and Marines, which have borne the brunt of the fighting -- need as many officers as they can get out in the field, allowing combat-weary units to rotate home reasonably often.
US forces grew accustomed to operating at helter-skelter tempo during the 1990s, when they deployed far more frequently than they had during the Cold War. It's possible to work around the demands of missions such as Somalia, Bosnia, or Kosovo, at least for a while. Officers can enroll in "distance learning" programs that tap e-mail, teleconferencing, CD-ROMs, and other information technologies. They can get by, more or less, without classroom study. The Pentagon's attitude toward professional education is more worrisome than bureaucratic adjustments to fill temporary personnel shortages. Senior leaders are deliberately encouraging myopia among the rising generation of commanders.
Obsessed with meeting the needs of the day, they have directed the war colleges to lower their gaze from the abstract, seemingly airy-fairy realm of history and theory to the everyday realm of operations and tactics.
War-college faculties are now purging much of the historical and theoretical content from the professional military education curriculum. As a result, declares professor Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University, "we are on the verge of producing a generation of officers as devoid of historical-mindedness as many of the civilians with whom they will work."
Having abandoned their intellectual moorings, the uniformed services will find it increasingly difficult to apply the nation's dominant power for political ends.
So will US allies that look to Washington for guidance. For example, Japan assembled a world-class military during the Cold War, yet came to depend on the US military for the offensive firepower forbidden to it under Japan's post-World War II "peace constitution." The deferential attitude this encouraged left the Self-Defense Forces reliant on US military doctrine and strategy.
Like their US counterparts, Japanese strategists show few signs that they think strategically about how to use military power for political ends.
Taiwan can avoid the pitfalls of dependency on a senior ally, if only it will. But the outlook isn't good, judging by the wrangling over the arms package Washington offered Taipei back in 2001. Proponents and opponents of the deal have not cast their arguments in strategic terms -- what armaments will best help Taiwan achieve its foreign-policy goals -- but in terms of cost, the intricacies of the budget process for the procurements, and so forth.
Some strategically and historically minded questions government and military officials should ask to move the debate along are: How have island nations defended themselves against powerful neighbors in the past? Can small nations expect justice from large ones absent credible means to defend themselves?
James Holmes is a senior research associate at the University of Georgia's Center for International Trade and Security.