Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 8 News List


Ma not a libel victim

Apparently, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), despite his law degree from Harvard University, didn't pay much attention to his legal studies. This could explain why, unlike many other law school graduates, Ma never passed a bar exam, either in Taiwan or the US. Even new law school graduates who are taking BarBri (a sort of cram course for the bar exam), could see that he has no case in his libel suit against the DPP.

For starters, libel is defined as "published material meeting three conditions: the material is defamatory either on its face or indirectly; the defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; and, the material must be distributed to someone other than the offended party."

In defining libel, we then need to look at the elements of defamation, which are defined as "(1) a publication to one other than the person defamed; (2) of a false statement of fact; (3) which is understood as being of and concerning the plaintiff; and (4) which is understood in such a way as to tend to harm the reputation of the plaintiff."

What Ma apparently has failed to see is that elements (2) and (4) are missing, and element (3) is tangential at best. Ma's big concern is that the VCD places his image next to that of a pan-blue supporter who is shouting "Long live [Chinese President] Hu Jintao"(胡錦濤). The problem for Ma is that this event did happen; what's worse for him is that they both happened during the same ceremony.

It's hard to see a "false statement of fact."

Additionally, can Ma really prove that his reputation was harmed in any way? Surely, in the open democracy that Ma likes to consider himself a part of, holding a different opinion is not a harm to one's reputation. Even if Ma is a staunch supporter of Hu Jintao or the PRC, where is the harm to his reputation? It's not as if the VCD was calling Ma a child pornographer or something.

Finally, does the statement in the VCD concern the plaintiff (Ma)? Ma happened to be in the VCD because it captured a public ceremony, but was the VCD really about him?

Additionally, public figures give up a certain right of privacy due to the public nature of their chosen profession. It's a sort of implied consent. A public figure, for example, can't simply sue because the news channels feature his image in a broadcast.

What's disturbing about this whole ordeal is that Ma is a former professor of law but he's clearly failed to understand the legal issues. That could be partly because Ma never really practiced law, nor did he have much legal experience. I don't think he's ever passed a bar exam in his life, and any bar membership he may have acquired was through alternative means, and not examination methods. He's a fine illustration of the saying that "those who can do, do, while those who can't teach." Better yet, they become politicians without ever spending much time in the real world.

Ryan Shih


VCDs are free speech

Were America not a mature democracy, American TV talk show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman would have been persecuted when they ridiculed former president Bill Clinton every night in their shows about his womanizing scandals during his impeachment trial.

Their counterparts in Taiwan -- the group of young people who produced a satirical VCD to ridicule some of the Taiwanese politicians who are generally considered the source of Taiwan's chaos -- are not as lucky.

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