Sun, Aug 07, 2011 - Page 8 News List

The possible after-effects of ruling No. 689

By Yu Ying-fu 尤英夫

According to paragraph two of Article 89 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), anyone caught following somebody without reasonable cause and who fails to stop when asked could face a fine of up to NT$3,000 or be reprimanded. In Constitutional Interpretation No. 689, the Council of Grand Justices recently ruled that this paragraph is constitutionally sound. As a member of the team representing the Ministry of the Interior in what has been called a battle between the right of the individual to privacy and the freedom of the press, this result is pleasing.

Of the 15 grand justices, 11 expressed an opinion on the interpretation, with some agreeing with it; some partly agreeing and partly rejecting it; and others just partly rejecting it. The full text is more than 80,000 words, much longer than the 10,000-word 1973 verdict by a US federal court on the Galella versus Onassis appeal between the paparazzi photographer Ronald Galella and Jacqueline Onassis, former wife of assassinated US president John F. Kennedy.

The grand justices said that when journalists are reporting on a case that can be determined to be a matter of public interest, and one which concerns the public and is considered newsworthy, they should be permitted to pursue an individual with impunity, if said pursuit is deemed necessary to ascertain facts pertinent to the story, and if the behavior in which the journalist engages does not violate norms of acceptable social behavior.

Examples of such cases include reporting crimes or misconduct; issues concerning public health and safety; the governance of the country; the official duties and implementation of policy by civil servants; matters of trust involving politicians and their conduct; and the behavior of figures in the public eye which could have an impact on society. Essentially, this points out under which circumstances a journalist can follow the subject of their story without fear of being persecuted under the Social Order Maintenance Act.

The grand justices also said that the guarantee of press freedoms refers to the freedom to elicit information and is not restricted to journalists working for media agencies, in that it also extends to private individuals providing newsworthy information to the public, or any behavior involving seeking information that will promote public debate through the monitoring of the government. This means that a journalist does not necessarily need to be affiliated with any particular media group and that they could be members of the public or freelance journalists.

Taiwan will soon hold presidential and legislative elections. Considering the continued ubiquity of corruption and vote-buying, something particularly virulent in remote and poor areas, it makes sense to encourage unaffiliated or freelance journalists and, if necessary, organizing teams to search out, closely pursue and catch vote buyers. This will create an environment which will make candidates who are toying with the idea of vote buying to think again.

Yu Ying-fu is a lawyer.

Translated by Paul Cooper

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