Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers expressed anger yesterday at what they said was the government’s slow response in quashing a “doomsday prediction” that passed without incident.
“It’s completely irresponsible,” DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬) said. “The government allowed these fallacies to spread instead of vigorously handling them from the outset.”
Gao and other members of the DPP caucus held a press conference two hours before Wang Chao-hung (王超弘), a self-styled prophet who calls himself “Teacher Wang,” predicted that a magnitude 14.0 earthquake was to hit Taiwan at 10:42:am yesterday and that it would “rip the island in half.”
The DPP lawmakers charged that the rumor, publicized through TV and newspaper reports, harmed society and incited public panic. One elderly man jumped to his death on Thursday last week, apparently affected by the news.
“Taiwanese society loves spreading these kinds of gossip and rumors and regardless of whether it is taken seriously or as a joke, it reflects poorly on society,” DPP Legislator Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) said.
Government officials, from Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) to the National Science Council and researchers from Academia Sinica, sought to dismiss the rumors.
DPP lawmakers suggested that agencies needed to better enforce laws on issuing unauthorized forecasts on earthquakes and inciting social panic, punishable by fines of up to NT$1 million (US$35,000).
The Central Weather Bureau has ruled out fines for Wang.
“The government should have investigated these fallacies before they were given a chance to spread,” DPP Legislator Twu Shiing-jer (涂醒哲) said.
Asked about the issue, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers said that more discussion on the issue seemed unnecessary and expressed optimism that Wang would be the last “teacher.”
The subject, however, appeared to have taken center stage at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee yesterday, with lawmakers from across party lines urging the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) to penalize Wang over his “omen.”
“Spreading rumors that cause social instability is punishable by fines in the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法). Spreading information about disaster prevention without authorization from the Central Emergency Operation Center is also punishable according to the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法),”KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said. “If the MOI doesn’t do or say anything, it would just create more panic.”
DPP Legislator Huang Jen-chu (黃仁杼) held similar views.
“Rumors that Wang spread have caused so many people to panic — even the military is moving helicopters to safe locations and the Keelung City Government has published a tsunami escape route map,” Huang said. “How can the MOI do nothing about it?”
In response, Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said the ministry has asked the Nantou County Government to monitor the situation and conducted safety and fire inspections on shelters that Wang built, and he denied any military response to the rumors.
“I don’t think what Wang said has caused the public to panic,” Jiang said. “Although it has triggered wild public discussions, most of the people looked at the rumors as something funny and talked about it in a satirical way.”