American reporter acquitted of criminal libel charges in Taiwan
TAIWAN–A Taipei court dismissed criminal libel charges filed against American journalist Ying Chan and Taiwan-based journalist Hsieh Chung-liang. In his late April decision, Criminal Tribunal Judge Lee Wei-shin ruled that the reporters had met the requirements of “good intent” under Taiwanese libel law.
Liu Tai-ying, a top official in Taiwan’s ruling party, filed a criminal libel suit against the two journalists after their article appeared in Yazhou Zhoukan, a Hong Kong Chinese language weekly, in October 1996. Chan, a staff reporter for the New York Daily News, makes frequent contributions to Hong Kong publications on a freelance basis.
The article detailed how Mark Middleton, a former White House aide and associate of President Clinton, allegedly hustled for campaign money in Taiwan. The article reported allegations that Lui, the business manager for the Kuomintang party, offered to give $15 million to Clinton’s campaign.
Chan and Hsieh based their article on statements made to them by Chen Chao-Ping, a Taiwanese lobbyist who attended the meeting between Liu and Middleton. Chen had originally defended the article but later settled after he was named in the libel suit.
A number of media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, wrote to Taiwan officials and the court to protest the appropriateness of criminal sanctions for political reporting.
Lee ruled that the contents of the article should be subject to public comment as a matter of public interest, that the reporters based their report on their investigation and believed the truth of their story, and that there was no malicious intent to damage Lui’s reputation.
Lee emphasized that Chan and Hsieh were reporting Chen’s account of the meeting and reported only that the meeting took place and that the offer was made. They included denials by both Lui and Middleton in the article and did not claim that the transaction ever took place. The judge ruled that the article did not meet the essential criterion of the criminal libel statute: it did not purposely set out to injure the reputation of those involved. Furthermore, the article did meet the requirements for “good intent” by providing fair comment on a fact subject to public criticism. The judge therefore concluded that the reporters should not be penalized.
A civil suit filed by Lui asking for $15 million in damages was also dismissed. (Lui v. Chan)