Representatives from major cinemas in Taipei yesterday said the city government should stop interfering with the operation of private businesses amid an ongoing dispute on whether cinemas are permitted to stop customers from bringing in food purchased outside the theaters.
In a public hearing organized by the city government to resolve the dispute, cinema representatives defended their right to impose the ban on food items brought outside the theaters, while insisting that they respect the rights of customers.
“Allowing all kinds of food items purchased outside the theaters would only make our burden heavier and increase our cost in cleaning and maintaining the environment. We hope the government respects our freedom to run a private moviehouse,” Cinemark Theater general manager Cheng Li-feng (程立峰) said.
Jason Chao (趙文銘), a legal consultant for Vieshow Cinemas, agreed, saying the cinema chain only bans food items that it does not sell at the theaters as a measure to strike a balance between the rights of the cinemas and the rights of customers.
However, Consumers’ Foundation vice chairwoman Hsu Tse-yu (徐則鈺) questioned the cinemas’ choice of food that they sell, saying hamburgers, popcorn and soft drinks also create noise or a mess.
“Selling those food items in the theaters, but banning consumers from bringing in such food purchased outside the theaters is unreasonable. It’s unfair to consumers because it leaves them with no choice but to purchase food in the theaters, which are often more expensive,” he said.
Regulations issued by the Government Information Office (GIO) state that cinemas should not ban food purchases from outside, with the exception of food considered a choking threat or food that is too spicy or pungent.
In Taipei, 17 of the city’s 34 cinemas ban food purchased outside the moviehouses, preventing consumers from taking in food ranging from hamburgers, french fries and cola drinks to stinky tofu.
Of the 17 cinemas that have a food ban, Ambassador Theaters and Vieshow Cinemas have the longest lists of banned foods, prohibiting moviegoers from bringing in 37 and 43 kinds of food respectively.
John Chang (張世宗), vice chairman of the board at Ambassador Theater, said the company respects government regulations and does not ban food items that are also available at the cinemas.
Consumers found to have brought such items would be asked to put them in a locker at the entrance, he said.
Taipei City’s Department of Information and Tourism Deputy Commissioner Chiu Peng-hsin (邱蓬新) said the city government would collect the opinions of both sides and send them to the Executive Yuan for review.