Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 0 News List

REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Calls for regulating crime coverage draw criticism

By Shelley Shan 冼立華  /  Staff reporter

Although the National Congress on Judicial Reform is determined to tackle the challenges facing the nation in terms of guarding the secrecy of investigations and the privacy of crime victims and suspects, its proposals to address these issues would create bigger loopholes rather than resolve the problems, critics have said.

The congress last year proposed that the National Communications Commission (NCC) study the possibility of stipulating penalties in the Radio and Television Act (廣播電視法) and other media regulations to penalize media outlets that have crossed the line in their coverage of cases that are under investigation or trials, such as broadcasting explicit images of suspects, victims and crime scenes.

It suggested that broadcast or online media be fined if they violate the rights of people involved in a legal proceedings, and have their license revoked if it were a severe violation.

At a public hearing held by the NCC last week to discuss the proposal, Claire Wang (王琬諭), whose four-year-old daughter was decapitated in 2016 by a man in Taipei, talked of the pain and distress caused by media coverage of crimes.

Not only did her family have to deal with the death of a beloved child, but they also had to experience the emotional turmoil caused by details of the murder being repeatedly broadcast, as well as the media’s lack of restraint when divulging personal information about her family, Wang said.

Media experts at the hearing said that some media workers’ unrestricted access to police precincts or prosecutors’ offices has contributed to a large number of leaks from the judicial branch.

For example, the Chinese-language weekly magazine Mirror Media last year published a report on an alleged conversation between former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and former China Times Group chairman Albert Yu (余建新) regarding the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) sale 13 years ago of China Television Station, the Broadcasting Corp of China and Central Motion Pictures Corp.

“Reporters cannot possibly write the dialogue almost verbatim without help from agency insiders,” former political commentator Fan Li-da (范立達) said.

Failure to abide by rules protecting the secrecy of investigations is a problem, especially once a jury system is implemented, National Chengchi University law professor Her Lai-jier (何賴傑) said.

This problem must be addressed because members of the public will soon be summoned to attend trials as jury members, he said.

“If this problem is not resolved, there will be no such thing as a fair trial in this nation anymore, because jury members will very likely have preconceived notions on the ruling because of what they read in the news,” he said.

However, will penalties stop the media from disclosing information on cases under investigation or on trial, and protect individual privacy? It is doubtful.

First, the NCC only has jurisdiction over broadcast media, but not print or online media. The abolition of the Publication Act (出版法) in 1999 removed government regulation over print media, while online media has very little government surveillance.

Images depicting violence, blood, horror and sexual abuse have to be edited, pixelated or removed if they are to air on broadcast media, but no such regulation is imposed on print or online media.

Penalties might be effective in getting the broadcast media to stop airing disturbing images of a crime, but they have practically zero effect on print or online media.

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