President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday reversed his decision to sue the China Times after the paper apologized for the "trouble caused to the reputation of the head of state.
Chen had threatened to sue over a news report suggesting that he had accepted an NT$4.5 million political donation from Zanadau Development Corp majority shareholder Su Hui-chen (蘇惠珍) in 1994.
An apology was published on the front page of yesterday's China Times, alongside a lead story mainly based on the Presidential Office's clarification that "President Chen never took any political donation from Su."
Presidential Office spokesman James Huang (黃志芳) told a news conference that the way the paper handled the case was "acceptable to the Presidential Office," though it still deeply regretted that such a matter should happen.
Huang said Chen had dropped his plan to file a libel suit against the paper.
"The constant recurrence of mud-slinging in election campaigns has severely impaired the quality of democracy and is also deplored by the people," Huang said.
"The president expects the news media, climate of opinion and all sides of society to jointly rectify this phenomena and boycott a vicious electoral culture of mud-slinging," he said.
Huang said Chen had full respect for press freedom, but stressed that news media should pay as much concern toward their social responsibilities as to press freedom.
"As shown in many news events in the past, groundless reports have not only caused irreparable harm to the concerned parties, but have also incurred a great social cost. We should indeed learn a lesson from this," Huang said.
Huang Ching-lung (黃清龍), editor in chief of the China Times, yesterday said the fact that the paper has offered an apology for the report does not mean that the news media have yielded to a politician or that it is cowardly.
"We've simply taken the matter on its merits and admitted our faults and responsibility for our professional negligence," Huang Ching-lung said.
He said the news that Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) allegedly accepted an NT$4.5 million check from Su in 1994 had developed for days, and the China Times had checked the allegations with many different sources to try to find out the truth.
As to the information obtained by the paper which suggested that the money was intended as a political donation for Chen, Huang Ching-lung admitted that his paper did not verify this information with President Chen or the Presidential Office.
Huang Ching-lung said the China Times could not accept the Presidential Office's accusation that the paper "has become a tool for rumor-mongering in election campaigns," as he said his paper is well-known for its impartiality and objectivity.
He stressed the China Times is not afraid of getting involved in a lawsuit or of taking the case to the court.
"But it would be the first case in the history of the Republic of China of the president suing a news medium for libel. This isn't something we like to see, nor is this a normal and correct course to take," he said.
He argued that it was disputable whether it was necessary for the president to go to law given the judicial immunity that he enjoyed.
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