The Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) accused Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) of violating freedom of the press by filing a lawsuit against reporter Lin Chau-yi (林朝億) of the Internet news source New Talk, who doubles as the association’s chairman, and applying for provisional seizure of assets in case he wins damages.
Lin was sued by Hsieh for a story last month about the National Communications Commission’s review of a proposed merger between Want Want Group (旺旺集團) and China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路), a communications group that operates both cable TV and broadband Internet services.
Hsieh was unhappy that Lin had said Hsieh tried to pressure the commission into approving the merger. He filed a lawsuit against Lin, despite the fact that Lin also included comments from Hsieh’s assistant, who rejected the accusation.
Hsieh also applied for provisional seizure of NT$2.5 million (US$83,000), which was approved by the court. The court is taking a third of Lin’s monthly salary as part of the seizure.
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, the association said that while anyone mentioned in a news report may make a response to that report, no one should threaten journalists through lawsuits or provisional seizure measures “which may frighten individual journalists, leading to violation of freedom of speech and a shrinking freedom of the press.”
“Politicians are public figures whose behavior should be evaluated by the public, they should be more open-minded when facing criticism,” the statement said. “If they have a different opinion about a news report, they should ask for a correction, not resort to legal action.”
The association urged Hsieh to apologize to Lin and to withdraw the application for seizure.
As for Hsieh’s questioning the appropriateness of the association defending its head, Lin said on his Facebook page that it has been a tradition for the association to exclude a member from its decision-making process if that member was involved in a certain case.
“Although I’m the Association of Taiwan Journalists’ head, the secretariat only informed me that they were going to issue the press statement [after it was written],” Lin said. “I’m proud of this tradition.”
Meanwhile, Hsieh issued a statement saying he, after consulting with his lawyer over the matter, would revoke the sequestration order to “show respect for freedom of speech” and “to refrain from disrupting the reporter’s livelihood.”
The decision came after he read in the Chinese-language China Times yesterday a commentary critical of the legal action he pursued, Hsieh said.
Hsieh said he “had no intention” of suppressing freedom of the press by asking the court to seize NT$2.5 million of Lin’s property and that he did not want to see anyone economically affected by the legal action. However, Hsieh said he would continue to sue Lin for defamation unless Lin admits to his negligence.
“If Mr Lin admits to making a mistake, that he failed to carry out a thorough verification of the information, I will settle the case,” Hsieh said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan
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