President Chen Shui-bian said he would not use the excuse of "national security" to limit freedom of expression, but a magazine issue was seized in March for this reason and a journalist prosecuted in October for revealing military secrets. "We would rather have a free press and sacrifice security," the president said in an interview in June with Chinese dissident Bei Ling, in line with his aim to make the country a "beacon" for China.
"People have a right to know and I’ll defend press freedom with my life," said Shen Yeh, editor of the tabloid weekly Scoop, who was sentenced to more than two years in prison in July 2002 for distributing to his readers a secret video of a woman politician, Chu Mei-fung, having sex with a married man. Shen Yeh competes with the local version of the magazine Next (Yi Zhou Kan, published by Hong Kong media baron Jimmy Lai), whose premises were vandalised in October. The rest of the media condemned the excesses of the two publications. "Press freedom has its limits," said a journalism professor at Taipei University.
The government tabled an amendment to the broadcasting law in December obliging the government and political parties to sell all their shares in the country’s TV stations. The previous Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) governments controlled most of the broadcast media. The party, now in opposition, still had one TV station while the new ruling party had two.
On 20 March, security police went to the Taipei offices of Next magazine and to its printers and seized copies of the next day’s issue, saying it "threatened national security." Some 160,000 copies were seized, but the magazine was still on sale at news-stands because the staff had secretly managed to print more copies elsewhere.
The issue said former President Lee Teng-hui’s government had illicitly used three billion Taiwanese dollars in state funds, through foreign bank accounts, to fund espionage in China and to buy the opening of diplomatic relations with foreign countries. National Security Bureau chief Tsai Chao-ming said the report was a breach of state secrets and a serious attack on national security.
The weekly feared it would be deserted by its advertisers. The journalist who wrote the report, Hsueh Chung-liang, was banned from leaving the country and his home was searched by police. He refused on 28 March to reveal his sources to the High Court when he appeared to answer a government complaint against the magazine. The government also filed a complaint against daily China Times, which also had an article on the subject in its 20 March issue. But national security officials said China Times was not seized because it had told them beforehand what it was going to publish.
Hong Kong pop star Nicolas Tse, accused of hitting photographer Ng Sung-kei, of Sudden Weekly, in a Taipei restaurant, said on 30 July that the matter was closed by mutual agreement.
A dozen people armed with sticks broke into the Taipei offices of Next magazine on 6 October, smashed glass doors, destroyed computer equipment and injured three security guards. The next day, the head of a local gang sent to a letter to the magazine and other media claiming responsibility for the attack and threatening to shut down the weekly and force it out of the country if it continued to publish "irresponsible" articles. He said its sensationalist content was insulting to the Taiwanese people. Other local media said the threat was because a recent article about gang wars.
It was the second attack on the weekly since it started up in June 2001. On 22 August that year, a gang of men with baseball bats ransacked the paper’s offices after it published an article about corruption. Police swooped on criminal circles in Taipei on 8 October and made many arrests.
The defence ministry confirmed on 14 October that Hung Che-cheng, a reporter on the Chinese-language Taiwan Daily News, was being prosecuted for "revealing military secrets" in a July 2000 article in the since-closed newspaper Power News that gave details of army manoeuvres. The officer who passed on the information was jailed for two years and two months. The journalist risks 10 years in prison.