Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Tantrums and tiaras at CKS

Among Taiwan's unique traits is the permission to allow reporters deep into its airports to lie in wait for people like Elton John

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Elton John greets Taiwan's press with a string of curses last week at CKS International Airport.


Trying to piece together the sequence of events that led to the expletive-filled flare-up between Elton John and local reporters last week at CKS International Airport is like intervening in a playground fight -- each side says the other guy started it.

Elton John's agent and the Taiwanese organizers of his concert, Kuang Hong Arts, say that local media showed an unacceptable lack of respect for the singer's space, while photographers contacted for this report say the first words out of Elton John's mouth as soon as he was in view of cameras were: "Fuck off!"

The subsequent trading of curses then became front-page news around the world, making for an inauspicious start to the Taipei stop of Elton John's Asian tour. And in Taiwan, where the general understanding is that celebrities are public property entitled to little if any privacy, Elton John's outburst showed a disappointing lack of decorum and understanding of local manners.

But attempting to pinpoint the trigger of the outburst overlooks the fact that a string of similar ugly episodes has taken place in recent years, starring Robbie Williams, Boyzone's Stephen Gately, Amie Namuro and French singer Alizee, to name a few. A fair question then seems to be, "Why at CKS International Airport do celebrities fly off the handle at such a high rate?"

The airport enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the few in the world where reporters stationed at the facility are permitted free access to the restricted zone between the gates and the immigration counter. The leeway was given under rules drawn up by the Government Information Office when martial law was lifted.

By international standards, especially post-9/11, these rules provide an uncommonly high level of media access to people just disembarking or about to board their planes.

Immediately after a Singapore Airlines crash at CKS in 2000, for instance, several survivors reacted incredulously when some of the first people they came face to face with weren't rescue personnel but reporters asking how they felt.

In the case of celebrities who draw dozens of reporters, as did Elton John, Taipei's airport can offer an unsolicited crash course in local culture. Not surprisingly, it's in this zone where encounters between reporters and celebrities have tended to degenerate as a result of clashing views of privacy and media access.

Robbie Williams provided probably the most ignominious display at the immigration counter in 2001 when he pointed to each photographer on the scene and said: "fuck you and you and you ..."

"If they don't want that sort of thing to happen, the organizers and media need to communicate better about how to shoot these stars when they get off the planes," said the section chief in charge of reporters at CKS airport, who would only provide his surname Lin (林). "In these cases, it's usually due to a lack of thorough planning on someone's part."

But whether perfect planning would defuse all future arguments is questionable in view of the mutual finger-pointing between Elton John's people, who say they politely requested the media stand back and photographers who say they were not issued any guidelines.

A spokeswoman for Kuang Hong Arts, who opted to not be named, said the pack of reporters were asked to keep their distance to avoid upsetting the star.

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