Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: No rights without the rule of law

Just how long can we afford to let Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) rewrite the Constitution and the legal code whenever it suits him?

Last year we saw Ma, preparing for a re-election campaign of quite extraordinary dishonesty, postpone elections for borough wardens which should have taken place in June until January this year. The laughable reason Ma gave for this tampering was that Taipei City was redistricting its boroughs and had to postpone the election until the redistricting was complete.

As we pointed out at the time, this was a first class example of the mendacity that characterizes almost everything that Ma does. The reason for postponing the election was to make sure that it happened after the mayoral election last December and the reason for this bit of legerdemain was to ensure that Ma's trusty vote captains would be kept in place during the election campaign period.

Ma had no right to reset a nationally-fixed election date for his personal convenience and should have been impeached for it, as in fact a considerable number of borough wardens campaigned for. That he hasn't been impeached shows what shallow roots the rule of law still has in Taiwan.

And now we see that contempt for legal niceties shown once again, as Ma sends his goons out to confiscate copies of the Special Report VCD. The VCD has caused a furor over its merciless lampooning of a number of pan-blue figures, especially People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), the vice-presidential candidate who is also under investigation on charges of fraud. Ma wants this VCD suppressed and has invoked the Broadcasting and Television Law (廣電法) as the legal basis for doing so.

But Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) mercilessly took apart this action on Saturday. Chiu pointed out that the VCD was not produced by a broadcast media organiza-tion, nor was it produced to be broadcast by one. As a result the Broadcasting and Television Law doesn't apply. The city government appears to have tried to apply rules made for videotapes intended for broadcast to a VCD meant for retail sale. The two cases are entirely dissimilar. Added to which Chiu pointed out that it is customary only to ban publications if they may be morally harmful or reveal classified national security information. Lampooning Soong hardly falls into either category.

What we are seeing here is the wrong law applied to the wrong object for the wrong reasons. Contemporary Monthly editor in chief Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒) told our reporter on Saturday that the singling out of Special Report for seizure among the hundreds of VCD and DVD titles available in the marketplace smacked of the censorship of the martial law era. And so it does. It is, of course, no surprise that in the latter days of that sad time for Taiwan the censor in chief was none other than Soong. He seems to resent anybody having any more freedom of speech -- about him at least -- than they did when he could determine exactly how much they had.

Ma might say in his defense that the central government deemed the VCD illegal because its producers had not obtained a circulation license. Even if this was necessary, it is also true to say that the same applies to most of the VCDs on sale in any nightmarket in Taipei. But Ma's censors haven't been bothered about them. The fact is that the Taipei City Government, in an attempt to suppress something the only fault of which was to dent James Soong's conceit, has made a mockery of the law and shown utter contempt for the constitutional right of free speech. Ma rewrites the rule book for himself and his cronies again.

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