Freedom of speech must not be used to shield media outlets from rumor-mongering and circulating false reports that undermine democracy, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus said yesterday.
The caucus made the remarks in response to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators who called on the National Communications Commission (NCC) to reconsider a fine issued to CtiTV News.
DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said she supported the fine.
“The move is to safeguard our democracy. It is vital to establish the code of conduct and guidance for media outlets,” Kuan said.
“Media outlets cannot become factories for producing rumors and false reports,” she said. “The KMT must not use freedom of expression to shield outlets from the consequences of fabrication and dissemination of fake news.”
The NCC on Wednesday fined CtiTV News NT$1 million (US$32,383) for failing to verify a pomelo grower’s account on a political talk show.
The grower said during a live broadcast that pomelo prices last year were so low that 2 million tonnes of the fruit were dumped into the Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) in Chiayi County.
However, after questions from agricultural officials and other media outlets, he said that not so many were dumped.
Fact-checking and verification showed that the information he provided on TV was fabricated, the NCC said.
KMT legislators led by Tseng Ming-chung (曾銘宗), Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) and Alex Fei (費鴻泰) yesterday visited the NCC offices in Taipei, where they spoke with NCC Deputy Chairman Wong Po-tsung (翁柏宗) and other officials.
The lawmakers demanded that the body uphold freedom of expression and treat all media outlets on equal terms.
The NCC has become a political tool of the DPP government to silence media outlets, Lai said.
“The NCC should be an independent agency and it should not selectively work to punish CtiTV, which has a lot of news content focused on [Kaohsiung Mayor] Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜)” of the KMT, Lai said.
The legislators said that the NCC’s budget should be cut, as it is restricting the nation’s free media and imposing constraints on freedom of expression.
Kuan said that the “KMT was attempting to obfuscate the real issue and mislead the public.”
Nations including the US, Germany and France have amended laws to deal with false news reports and the deliberate circulation of misinformation, while Brazil, Singapore, Canada and Australia have either pushed for amendments or have implemented measures to combat “fake news,” she said.
“Compared with those countries, Taiwan is lagging behind having not progressed with amendments and policies to deal with fake news,” Kuan said, adding that she is concerned the KMT was putting undue pressure on NCC officials, or even threatening them.
DPP Legislator Kuo Kuo-wen (郭國文) said that the false pomelo report severely affected growers in his constituency in Tainan, as they worried that prices would collapse and they would lose money.
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