Legal experts and media representatives at a public hearing yesterday opposed a proposal to punish media outlets for divulging details of cases that are under investigation or at trial, while crime victims’ rights advocates agreed with it.
The proposal was made at a National Conference of Judicial Reform meeting organized by the Presidential Office last year.
Participants discussed more effective ways to protect the secrecy of criminal investigations, prevent trials by media and protect the privacy of victims and suspects.
Participants asked the National Communications Commission (NCC) to assess the possibility of stipulating penalties in the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法) and other relevant regulations against media outlets that have divulged too much information on cases under investigation or at trial, such as releasing explicit images of suspects, victims and crime scenes.
Claire Wang (王琬諭), whose daughter was beheaded in New Taipei City’s Neihu District (內湖) in 2016, said she believed there should be limits and standards on the coverage of criminal cases.
“Images of my daughter’s body — whether her body was covered in a cloth or pixelated — appeared time and again on television for days after she was killed. Some online images were not even edited,” she said, asking people for empathy.
Not only was her daughter’s death intensively reported, but some media outlets disclosed her family’s personal information, including where they live, Wang said.
However, Shih Shin University law professor Lu Li-hsiang (呂理翔) said that penalties would not help.
“Some large media groups might think it better to report the case in detail and pay the fine, because the profits gained by reporting the information far exceeds any fines,” he said.
The principle of secrecy of criminal investigations only applies to prosecutors, police and criminal investigators, not media outlets, National Chengchi University law professor Her Lai-jier (何賴傑) said.
However, the problem must be addressed because people are soon to be called to attend trials as jury members, he said.
There should be areas in the offices of prosecutors, police and investigators that journalists are barred from entering, Her said, adding that these agencies should have official media spokespeople.
“They should also keep records of statements made in public,” he added.
An independent media disciplinary committee should be established to review cases, he said, adding that the committee could turn the case over to a criminal court to determine if a media outlet should be fined for infringing the confidentiality of a criminal investigation.
Former political commentator Fan Li-da (范立達) said that the penalties stipulated by the NCC would not solve the problem because it only regulates broadcast media, not print or online media.
No legal correspondent can write a comprehensive story without sources from the courts or other authorities, Fan said.
Reporters should be educated about what they can cover in legal cases and particularly about protecting human rights, Fan said.
However, adding warnings to news stories would be superfluous, Fan said.
“This would only show that the government wants to belittle people’s intelligence and treat them like children,” he said.
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