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KMT’s attempts to silence pundits?

01/01/2012

In a public speech in a church, Talking Show host Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀) revealed that during the 2010 special municipality elections, ‘a political party’ offered a huge amount of money to ‘his boss’ (I don’t know whether he was referring to the producer or the president of SETTV) to buy off Talking Show for three months, with a catch – Cheng had to be removed from the show. According to Cheng, his boss flatly refused and soon after that, Cheng was sued by individuals closely associated with Ma’s government and currently there are six ongoing cases against him personally. If you understand Taiwanese, please see the clip of Cheng’s speech at the end of this post. He also talked about how his high school teacher/military instructor tried to bully him into joining the KMT and how Taiwan has changed since. Towards the end of the talk, he showed figures that indicated a steady increase in support for the DPP.

The most controversial of all the legal cases against Cheng was probably the DoH complaint. Apart from Cheng, six regular guests of Talking Show (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)) and Dr. Billy Pan, a psychiatrist, were also named. Taipei Times reported:

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 government is using the executive and judicial agencies to control comments it does not like Lin (DPP spokesperson) 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.

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.

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.

As a viewer, I do not think Talking Show was spreading rumours as the discussions were based on facts and figures. They were questioning the high number of individuals developing serious side effects, the vaccine production details, time scale (i.e. whether the testing and production were rushed) and the relationship between the company and Ma’s government. Dr. Pan, who is quite into number crunching, posted his comparisons on his own blog. The figures showed that although the overall prevalence of side effects for Taiwan produced vaccine was similar to those produced by other countries but the prevalence of serious side effects (including deaths) was about four times higher than others. In a follow up post written about three months later, Dr Pan estimated that the death rate immediately following vaccination in Taiwan was approximately 16 times higher than in the USA. At the 12 month follow up, Dr. Pan calculated that the prevalence of serious side effects for the Taiwan produced vaccine was 6 to 10 times higher than other countries.

The above demand answers and the pundits simply asked the government to explain and respond but DoH under Ma was not forthcoming with information and figures and at no time was there any mention of recalling the vaccine. If Dr Pan’s analyses were inaccurate, all the government had to do was to refute with proper stats. Yaung’s action looked like another attempt to silence those who questioned what Ma’s government was doing. He filed the complaint under the name of DoH, meaning that he was using public resources. He did it on his last day as Minister, meaning that he left the donkey work to the next person and the liability to the agency.

Some of you may have worked out that this was not the first time Talking Show or Cheng’s position as the host was under threat. Please see my previous posts:

KMT’s control of media: the real reason behind Talking Show’s reduced hours

‘Talking Show’ in Taiwan being cancelled altogether?

I am concerned that this will only get worse if the KMT wins again.

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