Free speech in peril, DPP says

SPEAKING OUT:DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang said the government is using the executive and judicial agencies to control comments it does not approve of

Staff Writer, with CNA

Sun, Feb 13, 2011 - Page 3

The authorities were strangling free speech when the Presidential Office voiced support for a former minister in a controversial legal action, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has said.

The Taipei Prosecutors’ Office on Friday began handling a request by the Department of Health (DOH) to prosecute seven talk show pundits and a physician for allegedly spreading rumors about the influenza A(H1N1) flu vaccine.

While former DOH head Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) revealed on an ERA News talk show on Thursday that the petition against the pundits was the last official document he signed during his time as the country’s top health administrator, the complaint was filed in the name of the DOH.

The whole process looked like “a well-choreographed political move,” DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said.

The government is using the executive and judicial agencies to control comments it does not like Lin said.

Contending that their sensational allegations made people reluctant to get vaccinated and left some vulnerable to severe bouts of flu and even death, Yaung said he felt compelled to file the complaint to prevent the further spread of misleading information to better protect public health.

This marked the first time that a government agency has taken legal action against television pundits over what it called false comments about the flu vaccine.

The Taipei Prosecutors’ Office said the prosecutor responsible for the case will summon DOH officials and the accused for questioning in the next few days.

If indicted and found guilty, each of the pundits is subject to a fine of up to NT$500,000 (US$17,100), according to a law on the prevention of contagious disease.

The seven pundits against whom the DOH is taking action are the program’s host Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀) and six guests — Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明), Chung Nien-huan (鍾年晃), Wu Kuo-tung, (吳國棟), Wang Ting-yu (王定宇), Hou Han-chun (侯漢君) and Ho Po-wen (何博文).

Cheng has refuted Yaung’s accusation and said the former DOH head had refused an invitation from the show to discuss the vaccine issue.

He insisted the show was only providing the public with information about both the positive and negative impact of flu vaccines, and added he would consider filing a defamation lawsuit against Yaung.