Wed, Sep 01, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Consumers' group takes on paper over `distorted report'

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Consumers' Foundation yesterday accused a Chinese-language newspaper of tainting the group's reputation by publishing a distorted report.

The full-page report, run on page 9 of the Liberty Times yesterday, accused the foundation's vice chairman Jason Lee (李鳳翱) of teaching travel agencies how to skirt legal regulations in his capacity as a legal consultant for the Travel Agents' Association of the ROC, Taiwan.

"This wrongful report has done tremendous harm to the foundation and me as well," Lee, who is also a lawyer and a consultant for the anti-tobacco John Tung Foundation, said at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

In July, Lee announced on behalf of the non-profit organization that around 70 percent of the nation's travel agencies violated the law by charging handling fees when consumers requested to pay with credit cards.

At the time he urged the public to lodge a complaint with the foundation or their card issuer by presenting receipts if faced with such a demand.

"However, after that press conference, [Lee] advised travel agencies on how to avoid consumers' complaints in his capacity as a legal consultant," the report said.

"[Lee] is scheduled to go to Kaohsiung on Friday to promote the circumvention method. His role is questionable," the report said.

Lee strongly denied the allegations, saying that the foundation's stance that no handling fees should be added to card transactions remains unchanged.

According to the foundation's press release, the Ministry of Finance stipulated in 2001 that if a business establishment were found to be charging consumers additional handling fees, it would be barred from engaging in credit card transactions for six months.

Lee said he hoped that all travel agencies could present a single price, instead of a "cash price" and a usually higher "credit card price," for each travel package, so that consumers can easily make comparisons.

He also said that he has served as the association's legal consultant since June, before the July press conference was held, and therefore there was no question of conflicting interests.

"Besides, I teach them how to follow the law. Why should the report make me a scapegoat?" he asked.

Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary general of the travel agents' association, said that they had inadvertently caused misunderstandings in an official document distributed within the association, and that the Liberty Times reporter had based the story on this document.

According to the document, dated July 9, Lee was quoted as suggesting that travel agencies not refer to "handling fees" in print or verbally to avoid complaints by consumers.

Hsu admitted that they had inserted this line into Lee's other suggestions to expedite the association's education effort among the nation's travel agencies.

Hsu said he had apologized to Lee on Monday night for this mistake, but was dissatisfied with the reporter finding fault in an internal document.

Lee said he would demand that the Chinese-language media and the travel agents' association publish corrections and clarifications.

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