Mon, May 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Journalists discovered in hospital

UNDERCOVER The Taipei City Government said two `Next' journalists had been sending reports from inside Hoping Hospital since it was sealed off 10 days ago

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Members of a Christian church pray at Ta-an Park in Taipei. The prayer session was organized by a number of churches in response to severe acute respiratory syndrome.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

The Taipei City Government yesterday berated two tabloid journalists who, posing as relatives of patients, reported from inside Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital, which has been sealed off for more than a week to contain a breakout of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

"These reporters' wanton actions in getting exclusive news have put others and themselves in danger from SARS," said Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), a Taipei City Government spokesman.

The two Next magazine reporters, a man Wu identified as Chuang and a woman as Lee, were taken to the Hungwu military barracks yesterday for 14 days quarantine after the hospital staff realized who they were, Wu said.

The military camp, located in Yangmei, Taoyuan County, is now being used to quarantine people who might have been exposed to the SARS virus.

Wu said the Taipei City Government only became aware that the two reporters were in the sealed hospital when stories by them appeared in the latest edition of Next, which was published on Thursday.

The two reporters said that they happened to be in the hospital when it was ordered to be sealed off.

"Although we have reservations about their explanation of how they got there in the first place, we will for now accept their explanation as we can't at the moment verify whether they might have been sneaked into the hospital" after it was sealed, Wu said.

For the past 10 days, the reporters had posed as patients' relatives and taken snap shots of patients in isolation wards and talked to medical staff quarantined at the hospital, Wu said.

"They took snap shots without the permission of the persons concerned and slipped into the hospital's meetings without the permission of the hospital authority," Wu said.

"At one point, they even sneaked from Complex A [where non-SARS patients are located] over to the hospital's Complex B [where SARS patients are]," Wu said.

He said that during their stay in the hospital, the reporters were sent sleeping bags and other equipment from the magazine.

"[The magazine's executives], eager to get exclusive news, paid no attention to the reporters' safety," Wu said.

He said the reporters' filming equipment had been confiscated.

The two reporters could be charged with breaking disease-control laws, Wu said, without specifying possible punishments.

Chen Ching-hsiu (陳清秀), director of the city government's Rules and Regulations Commission, said that the reporters had obviously violated the Criminal Code by taking pictures of people without their permission.

If indicted on this charge, Chen said, they could face a maximum of five years in prison.

Next, a tabloid weekly magazine published by Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai (黎智英), is known for its paparazzi style reporting of crime stories and celebrity gossip.

No one from the magazine was immediately available for comment.

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