加 拿 大 台 灣 人 權 協 會
Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada
Statement October 30, 2011
Legislator’s Suit Against Media Threatens Freedom of Press
On September 2, 2011 Taiwan’s Newtalk Internet News ( 新頭殼新聞) reporter Lin Chao-yi (林朝億) reported on meetings of KMT legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang ( 謝國樑) and media representatives with members of Taiwan’s National Communication Commission (NCC) to discuss speeding up the process of approving the Want Want China Times Broadband media conglomerate takeover of China Network Systems (CNS), Taiwan’s second-largest cable television provider* . The headline called this an attempt to pressure the NCC. Legislator Hsieh claimed to be unhappy with the word “pressure” (施壓 ) and on October 14 entered a lawsuit alleging “criminal defamation” against Lin, naming Newtalk Chairman Su Tzen-ping (蘇正平) as co-defendant. Hsieh also requested that the court immediately impose a garnishment of Lin and Su’s assets as a “provisional seizure” (假扣押) towards Hsieh’s demand of NT$2.5 million in damages. The Taipei District Court granted this request.
It should be noted that Hsieh is a senior KMT legislator representing Keelung, the KMT legislative whip, and chair of the Justice Committee. It is not clear how any of these important functions relate to his meeting with the National Communication Commission on this matter. Lin Chao-yi is President of the Association of Taiwanese Journalists (台灣新聞記者協會). Su Tzen-ping was Director-General of the Government Information Office (新聞局) during the previous DPP administration. We note that Hsieh waited well over a month before launching this lawsuit. As of the date of this THRAC statement it is reported that in response to public outcry Hsieh states that he is withdrawing the demand for provisional seizure of assets but continuing the lawsuit.
The Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada is deeply concerned about this case, and makes the following statement.
1. For an experienced reporter to conclude that Hsieh’s actions look like “pressure” is an unremarkable deduction, which can stand the test of public opinion. In the normal course of political reporting, even in Canada, this hardly constitutes “defamation” .
2. We urge legislator Hsieh to withdraw this lawsuit against Mssrs. Su and Lin.
3. For a legislator to demand that, even before the court has passed sentence, a journalists livelihood should be put in difficulty by freezing his bank account and garnishing his salary is a shocking abuse of power, threatening all public media, and putting a chill on freedom of the press.
4. THRAC expresses its dismay at the decision of the court to impose “provisional seizure. We urge the Minister of Justice to undertake legal revisions to strictly limit the use of defamation laws. This is especially urgent in light of this case and a new UN Human Rights Committee statement* urging limits on the use of defamation cases by state parties to limit freedom of expression.
5. We request KMT Chairman Ma to make a clear statement disassociating his Party from the actions of Legislator Hsieh, and issue instructions to all KMT political figures to refrain from any use of defamation laws against the press except in the most egregious instances. We urge Chairman Ma to give his Party’s support to a revision of defamation laws consistent with the recent comments of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
加拿大台灣人權協會 Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada
會長 史邁克 及全體委員 President Michael Stainton and the Executive Committee
Toronto, Canada 2011年10月30日
*1 http://newtalk.tw/news_read.php?oid=17455 . The word “pressure” is used in the headline, while the report itself does not make any such conclusion.
* 2 On September 12, 2011 the UN Human Rights Committee 102nd session issued General Comment No. 34, strengthening the interpretation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/comments.htm).
Inter alia, the Comment states (para. 7): “ The obligation to respect freedoms of opinion and expression is binding on every State party as a whole. All branches of the State (executive, legislative and judicial) and other public or governmental authorities, at whatever level – national, regional or local – are in a position to engage the responsibility of the State party.”
And para. 47: “Defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they … they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression. … 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. In any event, a public interest in the subject matter of the criticism should be recognized as a defence. Care should be taken by States parties to avoid excessively punitive measures and penalties. Where relevant, States parties should place reasonable limits on the requirement for a defendant to reimburse the expenses of the successful party. States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation”.
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Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada