Chinese reporter views both sides of Taiwan Strait

Hsu Lu's life as a reporter and radio station general manager has mirrored the twists and turns of ties across the Taiwan Strait and the rise of a civil society in Taiwan.

Ms. Hsu, the first Taiwan reporter allowed into the mainland after the 1949 Communist revolution, was initially welcomed as a Chinese compatriot but later expelled. When Hsu's colleague Huang Debei met with student leader Wang Dan after 1989's operation Tiananmen, he was "accused of joining the counterrevolutionary movement by plotting to help Wang Dan escape," says Hsu.

After being detained by China's secret police, Hsu and her fellow reporter Huang were banished from the Chinese mainland.

"All of the [mainland] Chinese people's freedom seemed to disappear overnight," says Hsu of the 1989 crackdown.

Back in Taiwan, Hsu helped set up the island's first privately owned radio station several years ago. The Voice of Taipei's call-in shows, which cover a gamut of social and political issues, give a voice to Taiwan citizens who were shut out of the public airwaves during 40 years of one-party rule. In the decade since then, as Beijing continued to use its cultural commissars and political prisons to intimidate journalists, Taiwan's government has loosened nearly all its press controls. "Taiwan's press has gained virtually absolute freedom," Hsu says.

A Western official says that "if the right to criticize the government is one of the benchmarks of a free press, then Taiwan's newspapers are among the freest in the world. You can see Taiwan's president lampooned nearly every day, and dozens of cable TV stations broadcast everything from CNN to mainland Chinese broadcasts."

Hsu says an explosion of privately run newspapers and electronic media "reflect the rapid rise of a civil society in Taiwan."

She adds that "one of the main problems today with Taiwan's press is that reporters now have complete freedom of speech without understanding the responsibility that entails for accuracy and fairness."

But "on the mainland, people are still struggling for freedom of speech," Hsu says.

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