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Tue, Aug 01, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Magazine ordered to pay damages for defamation

LIBEL `TVBS Weekly' has lost a legal case after it published pictures of a couple leaving a hotel with the suggestion they had just had a tryst after having met over the Internet, and the court awarded the plaintiffs NT$500,000 each

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

A local magazine was ordered by the Taiwan High Court to pay damages of NT$500,000 for publishing a photo of a man and a woman walking out of a hotel in an article about a couple who met over the Internet.

TVBS Weekly and Liu Hung-wen (劉鴻文), the magazine's photo department chief, were ordered by the court to pay NT$500,000 in damages to each of the plaintiffs, who had earlier won a libel suit against Liu.

The court found that, in its May 1998 issue, the magazine published the picture of the plaintiffs without their consents as the background for a feature story about Internet dating. Leading with the headline "Internet lovers' nightmare" (網路情人驚魂記), the story focused on rape, fraud, and sexual harassment resulting from dating over the Web. The plaintiffs' photo, one of six published with the story, was placed in the upper-right hand part of the page and was captioned in red ink, "It's a common occurrence for Internet friends to have one-night stands after they meet."

According to the court, the plaintiffs alleged they did not know about the publication of the photo until told by friends and relatives, most of whom started a whispering campaign against them after seeing the story and the photos.

Furious that their photo was published without their consent, the plaintiffs first filed a criminal charge of libel against Liu and then asked a civil court for damages of NT$3 million for each of them against both Liu and the magazine.

During the trial, the defendant Liu argued that the whole report focused on warning about a shadowy side of society most people never get to hear about and that he did not intend to defame anyone.

Moreover, the defendant argued that it was plain to see that the plaintiffs were walking out of the hotel, and the article at issue was but a general commentary on Internet lovers, without making a direct reference to the plaintiffs. He further said in his own defense that most readers would only see it as a casual street scene.

The photo in question was a file photo, which the magazine's photographer shot in February 1998 for another story. It was later published only when the magazine discovered that they did not have enough photos for the story in question on Internet dating.

The court ruled that as the content of the article focused on the negative consequences of Internet dating, such as rape, fraud, and sexual harassment, so the text and photos used must be seen associated with the main subject.

The court said Liu, who controls the use of photos for the magazine, should have expected the publication of the photo could harm the plaintiffs' reputations.

"Knowing the possible consequences of their publication, Liu should have handled things with more care in order to avoid hurting peoples' reputations by using improper direct references or implications," the court said.

It concluded that Liu acted in breach of professional codes on protection of privacy and thus ordered that he and the magazine pay NT$500,000 in damages to each of the plaintiffs.

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