Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Media should fund suits: rights group

FREEDOM TO SUE A human rights group said most victims of media excess could not afford to defend themselves, and that the media should foot the bill


The Taiwan Human Rights Association yesterday suggested a fund be established to compensate victims of improper media behavior, and that media outlets provide the cash to help complainants proceed with lawsuits against them.

The association's proposal was developed as a result of the storm surrounding the Special Report VCD, a parody of politicians mostly from the pan-blue camp.

The association said that in a democratic society, the government should not restrict freedom of speech. It said that whether the contents of Special Report were defamatory or not, it was the responsibility of those aggrieved by the material to press charges against the producers of the VCD.

The Government Information Office attempted to ban Special Report, but later reversed that decision. The Taipei City government has also tried to confiscate the VCD.

It was necessary to set up a fund to help victims of inaccurate media reports have their names cleared, said Feng Chien-san (馮建三), the association's executive director.

"The fund is a form of insurance. The media would provide a certain amount of money every month or every year to help victims of the media with their lawsuits," Feng said.

"Lawsuits usually cost a lot of time and money, and since many complainants may not be able to afford either, they can only suffer in silence. This situation stands as a considerable obstacle in the promotion of human rights in Taiwan," he said.

The association yesterday also published the top ten human rights developments for this year.

The first was the acquittal of the Hsichih Trio. The three defendants were sentenced to death 12 years ago for murder but were acquitted by the High Court earlier this year. The Supreme Court canceled the acquittal in August and ordered the High Court to reexamine the case.

Second was improper all-day police spot checks conducted during the Hualien by-election as part of government efforts to crack down on vote-buying.

Third was the deaths of Chinese women pushed into the sea by smugglers who were being pursued by Taiwan's authorities.

Fourth was a controversy involving the indigenous Tsou tribe, in which a Han Chinese entered Tsou property and obtained honey from bees without the consent of the Tsou community.

Fifth was the media's stigmatization of people with mental illness, including a taxi driver who rammed his vehicle in front of the Presidential Office and an Indonesian maid who killed presidential advisor Liu Hsia (劉俠).

Sixth was the Special Report VCD, and seventh was the SARS outbreak, which triggered considerable panic in certain parts of the community.

Eighth was the leaking of personal details of online applicants for a Citibank credit card. Ninth was the strike by employees of the Taiwan Railway Administration during the mid-Autumn Festival.

The passing of the Referendum Law, the draft human rights law and proposals for a new constitution rounded off the list.

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