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Sunday, August 27, 2006

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ESWN: Wang Wenyi = Ting Wan-ming

Burakov: You think that a man is what he says.
Fetisov: He is, if he talks for a living.

There are times I wish ESWN would stick to his usual tabloid recipe of tits and ass, true crime, and translations of blogposts on Chinese villagers being beaten up by gangsters trying to steal their land....The other day he posted the story of United Daily News (UDN) reporter Ting Wan-ming, who was punished by his employer for a political outburst during an awards ceremony...first his account of the event:

A reporter with the Chinese-language United Daily News was removed from his post yesterday after he shouted at President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), demanding he step down from the presidency while covering an award presentation ceremony in Taipei. In front of dozens of TV cameras, the reporter, identified as Ting Wan-ming (丁萬鳴), shouted "President Chen step down!" at the president while waving a placard saying "Depose Chen" after Chen delivered a speech at a ceremony marking the presentation of awards to producers of "products very well made in Taiwan" for the year. Ting was immediately subdued by three security guards and his poster and folder was also removed and checked. Chen was escorted by other guards as he swiftly left the scene without looking back or saying a word about the melee.

ESWN was also kind enough to provide Ting's self-justification, a perfect example of the blindness and self-indulgence of Chen's critics, who often appear as small children complaining about the world of adults:

Ting told other reporters later that he was speaking for "more than 60 percent of the Taiwanese people" who think Chen should be removed from office as he has lost the trust and respect of the people. Ting said he shouted at President Chen on impulse as he wished to remind President Chen what people think about him. "President Chen does not seem to able to hear what people say about him these days as he is always surrounded by guards wherever he goes," Ting said. "Only on these kind of occasions can we tell him what we think about him and his leadership." Ting was released after he was questioned by police and officials from the National Security Bureau (國安局).

It's difficult to imagine how anyone could think that President Chen does not hear what is said about him, since it is printed every day in Ting's own paper, as well as all the other media, Chen, his aides, and leading politicians regularly discuss it, and his family has to deal with reporters every day who ask them (stupid and intrusive) questions about it. Not to mention that there are daily protests in front of his office. I know UDN is a mite out of touch, being a pro-KMT paper, but I didn't think they were living in their own fantasy universe.

UDN, as ESWN describes, then went on to say that good journalistic ethics demanded that Ting at least receive some punishment, even if it was a slap on the wrist, and the paper disavowed his action. ESWN then added:

But here is the mystery (or maybe it is no mystery): Whatever happened to all the people who were up at arms to defend the right of Epoch Times reporter Wang Wenyi to disrupt Hu Jintao's speech on the White House lawn and to tell him that his days are numbered? Why are they not defending Ting Wan-ming? Unless such cases are permitted selectively, depending on whether your speech is deemed noble or ignoble by them ...

Let's see. Just what the differences between these protests of Hu and Chen? Well, for starters, Chen is the democratically elected President of a democratic state, Hu is the murderous leader of an authoritarian government. Chen got to where he was by free elections among the body of the citizenry, Hu got to where he was by climbing over the bodies of his citizenry. Chen began his political career as a human rights lawyer defending democracy activists, Hu came to the attention of the inner circle in China cracking down on democracy activists in Tibet (several deaths). I won't even comment on the slyly despicable juxtaposition of Hu Jin-tao with Chen Shui-bian. That's just too obvious.

Simple ethical fact: Attacks on authoritarianism, in all its forms, are always and everywhere, fundamentally laudable.

But looking at "journalistic ethics" -- a phrase I thought might never appear in the same sentence with "United Daily News" but live long enough and you see everything -- the two cases are completely different. Wang Wenyi staged her protest at a meeting between Hu and Bush, an event whose purpose was overtly political (and morally deplorable). Her protest was appropriate to the tone and purpose of the meeting -- in fact, she helped fulfill its goal, in a backhanded way. It is deplorable that she used her press pass to gain access, but that was not an abuse of her employer, Epoch Times, the Falun Gong propaganda organ, since she went on her own and not as a paid representative of the paper. Wang had done that before to protest Hu, and was known to security, implying that she had the tacit permission of someone in the system. Wang's ethical breach, such as it was, was lying, not abuse of journalistic (and employee) ethics. Further, Wang's ethical breach was necessitated by the fact that protesters were kept away from the meeting. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, Wang was protesting the actions of an authoritarian leader (she also shouted at Bush, a getting in a two-for-one. Good for her). Let us also note that when Wang spoke out, another reporter covered up her mouth -- thus expressing his politics instead of doing his job and covering the news story.

Ting, by contrast, was covering an awards ceremony, with no serious national political content, whose tone and purpose were to reflect positively on local businesses. There was nothing morally objectionable about Chen handing out awards to local businesses nor does Ting have any right to interrupt the ceremony with his own inane political opinions nor did anything Ting do further the purposes of the ceremony. Ting was on company time, not his own -- few employers welcome employees using company time to further their own social and political goals, and courts in many companies have consistently supported employer's rights to limit employee speech while on company time. Ting's protest called attention to nothing except his own stupidy and ineffectiveness, whereas Wang served to remind us that the Hu-Bush meeting was a moral travesty and that Hu is a murdering scum, a little bit of ragged reality breaking into the scripted political pageantry. Note that when it was over Ting did not immediately proffer an apology to the businessmen whose time he had wasted and whose awards he had interrupted, but instead justified his childish antics by blaming Chen Shui-bian.

Finally, Ting's right of free speech was not abridged. He can, if he wants, say anything he likes, anytime he likes (Taiwan is not run like Hu's China). There's a wonderful line from one of my favorite books, which says that freedom is the ability to say No! and take the consequences. In a free society his employer also has the right to punish him and disavow his actions, if in fact they take place on company time in violation of company regulations, in violation of the ethics of his field, and cast the integrity and reputation of the firm in a bad light. ESWN's intimation that free speech is threatened here is in the final analysis false and misleading. There is no free speech issue here in either case. Ting spoke his mind and was punished by his employers whose time he had abused; Wang spoke her mind and was manhandled, arrested, and brought before a judge (who dismissed the charges). Niether was muzzled before or after they spoke. Each took the consequences, though only one of them took them like a man.

It used to be that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel, but in the age of the Internet, where all is talk, it's free speech.

So, yes, ESWN, you are right. We do judge these cases differently -- "selectively, depending on whether your speech is deemed noble or ignoble by them ..." The real question is not why we think Wang is noble and Ting is a yutz, but why you don't.



Wang's previous: Hu told her in 2001 that he wasn't killing Falun Gong, they were killing themselves
Wiki on Wang but looks like it is by a FLG supporter

crossposted at the View from Taiwan

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