"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Friday, April 30, 2004

A big "Ha ha ha!" to The Journalist

Were their brains eaten by aliens?
An appeal to Taiwan's Supreme Court by The Journalist magazine in an attempt to overturn a libel verdict handed down against them early last year has left them in the same position they were before this week's appearance in court -- losers.

In November 2000, The Journalist "published a story accusing [Taiwan's Vice-President Annette] Lu of spreading a rumor that [President] Chen [Shui-bian] was having an affair with one of his female aides [his then-interpreter Hsiao Bi-khim]." [LINK] During the call in which it was described by The Journalist that these allegations were made, Lu supposedly laughed, "Heh, heh, heh." This onomatopoetic description accompanied Lu's photo on the cover of the magazine, starting the sensationalist ball rolling.

From the very start, Lu denied that she had made the call, and at first she merely requested an apology from the magazine. After the magazine responded by calling Lu a liar, charges of libel were then filed against the magazine by attorneys for the Vice-President.

The article behind all this alleged that Lu had made the call in an attempt to unseat the president because of a (rumored) power struggle.

Before the article was published, Yang Shu-mei, a reporter from The Journalist, contacted Wu Shu-chen, the wife of President Chen, and asked about the allegations. Even the First Lady suggested that the accusations being made against Lu were unfair. Yang Shu-mei also failed to contact Hsiao Bi-khim directly, but instead asked friends of Hsiao's, who replied that the allegations were "impossible to believe." While this information made its way into the article, it was the sensational cover that caught and held everyone's attention. [LINK]

The magazine's editors and staff cried that "freedom of the press" was being stifled. Anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together might realize that this case is not about "freedom of the press," but rather about the fact that the media has no right to smear people with zero evidence backing them up.

What about the kind of witnesses who could be called in a trial? Well, the person who supposedly received this "Heh, heh, heh" call just happens to be Yang Chao -- the editor-in-chief of The Journalist. He's the only one who can "attest" to the occurrence of the call. The two "witnesses" he did name (Tseng Chao-ming, Chen Shih-ning) denied any knowledge of Lu making such comments.

Credible? Hardly.

I promise to correct any errors to this post and apologize to aliens who are offended if the brains of so-called "journalists" are not, in fact, a part of their diet
The Taipei Times reported on Wednesday that Lo Ming-tung, attorney for The Journalist, argued that "Reporters are responsible for reporting, not investigating," and that "It is impossible for reporters to come up with '100 percent accurate' stories."

On the second count, he's right, but on the first part of that statement, he's 100 percent wrong. Furthermore, even if he's right on the second count, inadvertant inaccuracies should be corrected when discovered, and if they have harmed someone's reputation, deserve at least an apology.

In January 2003, although she wasn't "100 percent satisfied," Lu apparently accepted the verdict anyway.
The release said that Lu was not 100 percent satisfied with the decision by the court that changed her original request to ask the magazine to publish a clarification with an apology in Taiwan's 32 major newspapers and radio and TV stations. The second verdict required the convicted Journalist employees to print apologies in only four newspapers.

"Though the decision was not satisfactory, my name shall be cleared by the publication in the four newspapers anyway. As a result, I decided not to appeal," Lu said.

The Taiwan High Court upheld the verdict of a lower court that The Journalist magazine did not libel Lu when it reported that she had called its editor-in-chief to spread a rumor of an affair involving Chen on Dec. 13, 2001. But it ordered the publication and five of its personnel to bear the costs of publishing a correction.
However, The Journalist copped out on their obligations then, and they're still doing so.

The lack of any evidence (phone records, recordings) to back them up is what got The Journalist's appeal thrown out, as it should have been. It's not about "freedom of the press" at all. It's about the rights of people to not be smeared by unfounded rumors. The online eTaiwanNews was clear about that almost a year and a half ago:
Media must get the facts straight
2002-12-16 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter /

Recent court verdicts have declared news media the losers in prominent slander suits brought against them. While the media workers involved have characterized these court decisions as setbacks for freedom of the press, the issue actually highlighted by them is the question of whether Taiwan's news media are capable of reflecting upon their unprofessional handling of information and rash publication of reputation-damaging accusations without conscientious ascertainment of the facts. [Emphasis mine] [LINK]
Hear, hear!

For a funnier look at this, take a peek at an editorial cartoon in today's Chinese-language Liberty Times. On the "shooter's" back are the words "Xin Xin Wen" ("New News," AKA The Journalist magazine). The person in the background talking on a cell phone is saying "The truth has been revealed. Ha ha ha!" -- a reference to the opposition pan-blues' incessant and illogical demands to know "the truth" regarding the pre-election assassination attempt and so much more.
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