Whenever there is a discussion about these two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and protection of reputation -, it runs a risk of becoming sectarian. For people who put freedom of expression above everything else, anything that may hamper it will look like authoritarian or totalitarian practice. That’s especially the case when such discussions occur on China- or Taiwan-related blogs. In China, there is no freedom of expression, even though the PRC constitution’s article 35 would seem to suggest otherwise. In Taiwan, both the constitution and daily practice would by and large suggest that there is freedom of expression – even though protection of reputation plays an important role, too.
This is no blog about legal issues, as I have mentioned in previous posts, when things got sort of “legal”. Expect no expertise from yours truly. But it may be worth mentioning that the degree to which freedom of expression prevails in the United States, even when conflicting with other individual rights, appears to be an exception even within the West. Britain for example sees both freedom of expression and protection of reputation as fundamental rights.
In Taiwan, a blogger – reportedly – commented maliciously on a noodle restaurant, and was fined by a Taichung court. The degree to which she was fined seems to be unclear when you follow a number of Taiwanese blogs, and as the mainstream press doesn’t appear to be sufficiently interested in getting to the bottom of the story, and as most blogs tend to comment on ready-made stories they find within the mainstream press (my own blog is no different), I’m not expecting to know more about “what really happened” in Taichung in the future than I do now. Which is as much as nothing.
Once again, as almost usual, I came across the story through Echo Taiwan‘s blog. The commenting thread which follows his post may come across as quite angry at times.
The same may be true for the thread that follows MKL‘s (My Kafkaesque Life) post on the same topic. He took the opportunity to give several fellow bloggers a severe dressing-down, but not without his own share of errors or unclarities concerning the actual Taichung court case. The saga continues here, on another of MKL’s threads.
Given Taiwan’s – and the ruling KMT’s – history, it doesn’t really surprise me that trust in the country’s judicial institutions is a rather scarce commodity. The Chen Shui-bian case alone (the only one I “studied” at some length) should help to explain as to why that is so.
But how far should freedom of expression go? I’ve asked myself that question very often. I know how far I, personally, want to go as a blogger. I was taught to respect other people and their individual rights. I could have done away with the habit – I’ve done with other things I’ve learned as a child, too -, but I never felt a desire to do so. And still, I’m blogging on WordPress for a reason. Germany’s laws are much more restrictive than America’s, or Britain’s in this field. On a German domain, I might be subject to legal harassment while I’m being left alone on this platform. Jun Jie, a fellow German blogger, was facing a -general, not individual – threat from politics which didn’t materialize after all, but may still do so at a later date.
So in short, I’m at odds with some of my own country’s policies and its politicians’ likely objectives in this field, despite my rather conservative view of what a blogger should, and should not do. It was for this view that I found MKL’s recent posts on the Taichung legal case refreshing.
How far should freedom of expression go? It’s a vague question on a subject which would actually require clear definitions.
» More on the Case, Echo Taiwan, July 3, 2011