Sat, Nov 12, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Supreme Court upholds ‘Dreamers’ case verdict

‘HUMAN GARBAGE’:Writer Neil Peng said that the musical was created by ‘political and cultural elites’ to profit off its exorbitant government-funded budget

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld an earlier decision and ruled against former Council for Cultural Affairs minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) in a libel suit related to the 2011 musical Dreamers (夢想家), finding the three defendants — writer Neil Peng (馮光遠), cartoonist Tsai Hsieh-tsung (蔡協崇) and Taipei City Councilor Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑) — not guilty.

The court said criticism directed at Sheng and government-funded cultural programs in 2011 were issues of public interest, which may be subject to open debate, and that freedom of speech protected their right to express their opinions.

The defendants verified information to a reasonable degree and expressed their opinions without defaming Sheng, the court said, upholding an earlier verdict by the Taiwan High Court.

Yesterday’s ruling is final.

Sheng, serving in the administration of then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), was responsible for all aspects of arts and cultural programs, including overseeing budgets and granting government contracts, for a series of celebratory events and activities marking the centenary of the founding of the Republic of China.

A row ensued revolving around Dreamers, a rock musical by playwright Stan Lai (賴聲川), which was panned by critics. Among the criticism of the performance was its exorbitant budget: NT$258 million (US$8.1 million at the current exchange rate) for a two-night run on Oct. 10-11, 2011.

Peng called Dreamers an “extravagant waste of money,” saying that it was the result of “political and cultural elites colluding for profit” and that “Lai got the contract through his family and political connections to Ma.”

Sheng was not spared criticism by Peng, who called the then-minister “human garbage” and “a shameless government official” and said that “Sheng is a sycophantic dog serving his political masters, Ma and [then-premier] Wu [Den-yih (吳敦義)].”

Sheng resigned from the post on Nov. 18, 2011, and later filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Peng, Tsai and Liang, seeking NT$1 million in damages.

Tsai had teamed up with Peng, drawing cartoons that alleged Sheng had colluded with other officials to give fat government contracts for the centennial events only to Lai — who was known to be in Ma’s inner circle of friends — and a few other artists with close connections to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Liang had publicly said that Sheng divided the project into separate contracts to skirt public tender regulations and illegally profit, and requested that public prosecutors investigate alleged financial irregularities in the case.

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