Lin Chauyi, a reporter at the internet news outlet New Talk and head of the Association of Taiwanese Journalists (ATJ), was sued by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) whip and legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang for defamation on October 14. Lin had written an article on September 2 about Hsieh's "political interference" in a controversial cable television deal. According to the report, the legislator had met members of Taiwan's National Communications Commission before it held a September 6 public hearing, and pressured them to approve Want Want Broadband's bid to purchase China Network Systems (CNS), Taiwan's second-largest cable television provider. Want Want Broadband is a subsidiary of Want Want Group, which is known for its friendly relations with the Chinese government and state-run media outlets (see CMB No. 34), raising concerns that its acquisition of CNS would limit Taiwanese viewers' access to diverse television content. At the plaintiff's request, Lin faced a provisional seizure of NT$2.5 million (US$82,600), which was approved by the Taipei district court; one-third of his monthly salary will be withheld until the amount is covered. After other media outlets and civil society groups, including Want Want–owned China Times and the ATJ, condemned Hsieh for violating press freedom, Hsieh said on October 19 that he would settle the lawsuit if the reporter admitted "that he failed to carry out a thorough verification of the information." Immediately after Hsieh's statement, New Talk said its fact-based investigation was "open to public scrutiny." It added that Hsieh had requested provisional seizure of assets from both Lin and New Talk chairman Su Chengping, for a total amount of NT$5 million (US$165,300), though only the request regarding Lin has thus far been approved.Let's see that on the instant replay:
1. News report says legislator pressured National Communications Commission (originally erected to be a KMT end run around the GIO during Chen Administration) to approve WantWant's purchase of CNS. WantWant, though Taiwan-owned, is a rabid supporter of Beijing (Newtalk's report in Chinese says Hsieh pressured the NCC twice).
2. Legislator (KMT whip, not some nobody) sues reporter who is also the head of the Association of Taiwanese Journalists for defamation for reporting this. Is this a game of "let's send a signal to journalists"?
3. Legislator requests, and the court (incredibly and rarely) grants, that the journalist's salary be docked 1/3 until $82,500 US dollars is paid off before the freakin' trial. Not just a lawsuit, but also an attack on the journalists ability to support himself and his family. Is this a game of "let's send a signal to journalists"?
4. Even WantWant owned media protests this apparent assault on press freedom.Newtalk (please go here and read the whole excellent analysis) points out that this lawsuit looks like a clear violation of UN press freedoms. Defamation remains a criminal act in Taiwan -- recall that President Chen Shui-bian did eight months for libeling Elmer Fung during the martial law period. Newtalk argues that having signed the international covenants on rights, the government is now subject to their stipulations....
Citizens and news workers might have anticipated that the question of decriminalization of libel might have been raised in the wake of the incorporation into our domestic law of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights effective December 10, 2009.Newtalk further notes:
However, Article 310 and the question of whether defamation should be decriminalized have not been included in the review of Taiwan`s legal code and administrative regulations now being conducted under the auspices of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Human Rights chaired by Vice President Vincent Siew.
Part of the reason for this omission may be the fact that Taiwan`s Constitutional Court found in its Interpretation No. 507 of July 7, 2000 that Article 310 does not violate the constitutional right of freedom of speech in Article 11 on the grounds that the criminalization of defamation is "a necessary countermeasure" to "protect individual legal interests" and "to prevent the infringement of the freedom and rights of other persons."
The Constitution Court determined that "if the law allowed anyone to avoid penalty for defamation by offering monetary compensation, it would be tantamount to issuing them a license to defame."
Specifically, Article 47 mandates that "defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure...that they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression."The Association of Taiwanese Journalists has a response up on their website. TT reported that ATJ said:
Moreover, the HRC`s interpretation mandates that "states parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty."
In addition, Article 47 stated that "at least with regard to comments about public figures, consideration should be given to avoiding penalizing or otherwise rendering unlawful untrue statements that have been published in error but without malice" and that "a public interest in the subject matter of the criticism should be recognized as a defence" and adds that "care should be taken by States parties to avoid excessively punitive measures and penalties."
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, the association said that while anyone mentioned in a news report may make a response to that report, no one should threaten journalists through lawsuits or provisional seizure measures “which may frighten individual journalists, leading to violation of freedom of speech and a shrinking freedom of the press.”Worth observing: the original article included balancing information from Hsieh's assistant denying the claim that Hsieh had pressured the NCC.
Keep in the mind that the furor over press freedom in this case should not obscure the fact that this is fallout from a more important issue, the KMT's apparent enablement of China's relentless assault on Taiwan's media freedom and diversity. Let's not forget which party regularly eulogizes Singapore as an example of how things should be run.
- An excellent forum on Taiwan: Is Taiwan defensible? reported in the Taipei Times
- Denny Roy becomes the latest in an endless line of people calling for Beijing to let Taiwan into international organizations. In three years of Ma's diplomatic "truce" we have diddly to show on that front. Remember the glorious days when the punditocracy announced that Beijing would take down the missiles if Ma was elected?
- Taiwan dollar rallies
- The story of a Taiwan death row inmate
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