Support Freedom to Publish and Freedom to Read

The Government Information Office of the Taiwanese government has just declared that the new rating systems for books, audio and video publications will go into effect on December 1, 2004. Promulgated in August this year as the Measure Governing the Ratings Systems of Publications and Pre-recorded Video Programs, the new rating system is put into effect without having gone through public hearing or discussion of any kind.

The definition for restricted content for books and audio publications contain wording such as “over-description” of (criminal behaviors, etc.); “over-portraying” of the process of suicide; “dramatic depiction” of violence, and deviance; and of sexual behaviors, obscene plots, naked human sex organs “acceptable… but not abhorrent” for adults. Such terms are open to free association, “over-interpretation” and abuse by interested parties. In contrast to the vagueness of what constitutes restricted materials, are the severe fines that penalize violators (between NT$100,000 and NT$500,000), with serious offenders liable to suspension of publication for a month up to a year. Book stores and publishers are in shock, and a part of the creative and reading population in Taiwan has risen in protest. Within less than a week, more than twelve thousand have signed their names to our online protest statement, including all manner of cultural workers as well as academics.

The effect of the regulation is swift and severe. Taiwan’s largest chain bookstore, Eslite Bookstore has already had to place this year’s Nobel Prize Laureate on the restricted bookshelf, warning against perusal by all not yet 18 years of age. Former Nobel Laureates such as J.M. Coetzee, Gao Xingjian, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will also have to be taken off the shelves and relocated in the restricted area since their works might be read as containing "over-descriptions" and/or “dramatic depictions" of violent or sexual acts and behavior. This is merely the tip of the iceberg, and the future may very well become a prolonged harsh winter for Taiwan publishing and reading. As the government enforces this coarse-grained moral examination and cleansing of Taiwan’s publications, the state’s vaunted commitment to democracy in the arena of the freedom to information suffers a huge leap backward.

We feel that this is a dangerous step and will directly impact on the freedom to literary and artistic expression. We are a coalition of people fighting for the freedom to creativity, the freedom to read, and the freedom to publish. We are against any rating system that has not gone through a democratic discussion process with the people whom it will most affect – the people who write and read books and create and watch audio publications. We demand that this new rating system be halted and that public hearings and forums be held, so that all concerned may speak and be heard. We call on the international communities of cultural workers and producers, publishers, writers and all concerned with human rights to take note of this great leap backward taken by Taiwan’s GIO. Please write to the GIO and ask that they honor the people’s fundamental rights to literary and artistic creativity and publishing in Taiwan.

Write to Government Information Office, ROC