2011/06/22

Wrote negative comments on food in Taiwan and get heavy punishment

[update] See my newer article with more updated info of this event.

Didn't write anything for a long while (I spent most of my time on Black Rain's blog). But I think I should bring this to your attentions, regarding what you write in your blog that could get you into troubles in Taiwan.

It appears in today's news:

部落客惡評麵店 賠20萬判拘役
Blogger Maliciously Comments on Noodle, Fined NT$ 200,000 and More
http://www.libertytimes.com.tw/2011/new/jun/22/today-t1.htm


A blogger ordered a noodle in a restaurant. She then wrote an article in her blog to criticize --- too salty, the store too dirty, had cockroaches, the owner allows illegal parking causing traffic troubles --- as what any customer in the USA would write on a daily basis.

Only thing is that she was not in the USA. The restaurant brought it to the court and she was fined by the judge with:

* ~7000.00 US dollars (The owner asked for ~17,000.00). Fined ~ US$ 17,000.00 in the first trial (on Feb 15th). The accused reached an agreement with the complainant for ~ US$ 7,000.00 before the 2nd trial.
* delivering an apology
* 30-day labor
* 2-year probation.
* 30-day detention, probated for 2 years.

Why ?

1. The investigators went to the restaurant but found that the store was clean and no cockroaches so what the blogger wrote was wrong --- Oh yea, it was after the owner brought it to the court, and the investigators expected the store be left dirty and the cockroaches be there to greet them when they got there;

2. The judge said, she went to the restaurant only once and took only one bowl of noodle. For that, she cannot say the food from the store is bad --- i.e., she should have been there numerous times and eaten all the dishes before she made any negative comment;

3. The fact that she wrote a negative comment after eating there only once shows that her intention of writing that blog article was to ruin the reputation of the restaurant.

With that, the judge concluded that what she wrote is beyond the freedom of speech, and charged her with Offenses Against Reputation (妨害名譽) accordingly.

Even if that crime sticks, the punishment is way too heavy from my standard.

The article also cited a remarkable comment from a lawyer as saying:

"When making comments, people should hold an objective and fair attitude, but not just criticizing. After all, everybody has different tastes, so you can't make one comment for all."

That is, you are not allowed to voice your own judgment. Instead, you should always voice "what everybody thinks."

So, watch out what you write in Taiwan, people.

39 comments:

Boyd R. Jones [22/6/11 17:25] said...

Sounds like something out of Communist China.

Taiwan Echo [22/6/11 22:34] said...

I don't know, Boyd. Never been there. I am wondering: is it a social problem ? a cultural thing ? or, an influence of authoritarian political system ?

But I am sure that when heavy punishment is placed on someone who just voiced his/her own opinions on daily thing like this, something is seriously wrong.

Anonymous [22/6/11 23:10] said...

Could the blogger appeal this further, beyond the Taichung courts? Because this is the stupidest court decision I've ever heard of.

The lawyer also says you should take pictures to protect yourself. I guess that would mean a picture of the cockroach, one with you and the cockroach (to prove you were there), and one with cockroach in front of the restaurant's sign (to prove it was really there). And probably one with cockroach and a daily newspaper, to prove the date. Maybe you could just Photoshop it.

Taiwan Echo [22/6/11 23:33] said...

Don't know if she can appeal, Anon. It seems that she accepted the charge and paid the fine already.

Yea, for any blogger intending to comment stuff in Taiwan, make sure you have a photo with you and the cockroach standing in front of the dirty spot of a store with a sign of that restaurant.

Anonymous [23/6/11 00:19] said...

Well, too bad if she just gave up. I can't see this kind of interpretation of the law standing up very long. But maybe I don't understand Taiwan's idea of the law very well.

justrecently [25/6/11 15:19] said...

Restaurant owners want to survive, too, and their rights deserve as much protection as a blogger's. There should be no serious allegation without good evidence. "The store too dirty" is a killer.

I can't tell if the court ruling and the fine was justified, but I can't say that the blog entry was, either.

Anonymous [25/6/11 21:12] said...

She never once talked about the food being salty in her post.It all started about a parking issue. She attacked the store calling them bully's, saying the place was dirty and she saw a roach. Hmmmm she said that she saw a roach there but she still ate anyway. She does not live in the neighborhood like she says in her post. Oh and what's interesting is that she posted this blog one year after she ate there. The same day as the argument.

Boyd R. Jones [25/6/11 21:56] said...

The particulars of the case don't really matter. What is important is the human right of free speech in Taiwan. As one of the only true democracies in Asia, Taiwan should wholeheartedly support the rights of all citizens and residents to say whatever they want. Throwing a blogger in jail for expressing an opinion about a restaurant is unconscionable and silly. Not only does it violate basic human rights, but it makes Taiwan (once again) look bad (for example, who in the West wants to fight and die for a wacky island that jails bloggers?).

Michael Fagan [26/6/11 01:37] said...

"Restaurant owners want to survive, too, and their rights deserve as much protection as a blogger's."

But, like any other business, they do not have a "right" to survive. They do however, have a right to respond to possible defamatory remarks, though clearly, courts handing out steep fines and suspended prison sentences for mere criticism is outrageous.

Taiwan Echo [26/6/11 02:35] said...

@justrecently: "Restaurant owners want to survive, too, and their rights deserve as much protection as a blogger's."

In the USA, people do those kind of comments on a daily basis on any kind of store.

Why then it is a problem in Taiwan? I think the problem lies deeply in the culture -- in the USA, when someone says something, the society knows that it's a personal opinion, and whatever is said belongs to just his/her. But in Taiwan, the society assumes that when someone says something, it must be true, or at least true to some extent. So they can't treat someone's opinion to just someone's opinion.

The entire society behaves this way, so does the court. The ruling of the judge seems to reveal that he thinks people have no ability to think by themselves.

Unfortunately, if "Restaurant owners want to survive, too" becomes the reason, then people who do feel negative about the restaurant will not be protected by the law. This is a serious violation of speech freedom. People will only feel safe writing positive comments.

Taiwan Echo [26/6/11 02:47] said...

Anon:

"She never once talked about the food being salty in her post.It all started about a parking issue.

Your comment is inconsistent with what is reported. The court ruled this matter twice, one in March, obviously a criminal court (刑事庭), to rule what kind of crime she committed. In that court the judge didn't mention "salty."

There was a second court this month, I believe is a civil court(民事庭), to judge what compensation she has to pay to the store owner. In this court the "salty dish" was mentioned.

"she said that she saw a roach there but she still ate anyway."

How on earth do you know that she ate after she saw the rouch ?

"She does not live in the neighborhood like she says in her post."

Irrelevant.

"Oh and what's interesting is that she posted this blog one year after she ate there. The same day as the argument."

You messed it up totally. She wrote the blog right after she went to the restaurant. The owner didn't bring it to the court until one year later.

justrecently [26/6/11 05:03] said...

In the USA, people do those kind of comments on a daily basis on any kind of store.

The court's verdict, if as steep as described, was most probably out of proportions - but I don't agree with the idea that a blogger may publish whatever he or she wants, about other peoples' businesses, without some good evidence.

Anonymous [26/6/11 05:19] said...

First of all the blogger did not get thrown in jail as you say. I am all for freedom of speech but Boyd did you even read the blog post?

Here I will help out out a little. The main headline was
"Bully...(store name)beef noodle soup" But i guess that's the way most people start their food blogs. Then the blogger goes on to write about a parking issue that made them angry which was stated three times in the blog.

Then the blogger writes
"By the way...I went to eat at that Bully store(name of store)beef noodle shop before. Really...awful" "They are unsanitary...have roach" "The reason I didn't have the store in my food blog is because they are awful and unsanitary."

Then at the end of her post the blogger writes
"Bully...Wait!! I will help you call the tow truck everyday..to help you clean the front door!!
Wait!!...Treasury...The money is coming."

Boyd you say that the blogger was expressing their opinion about the restaurant. By that do you mean calling the owner a bully several times?

Here is link so you can read the post for yourself. http://hk.myblog.yahoo.com/ecebwiw282/article?mid=811&fid=-1&action=next

Anonymous [26/6/11 06:57] said...

Taiwan Echo:

"Your comment is inconsistent with what is reported. The court ruled this matter twice, one in March, obviously a criminal court (刑事庭), to rule what kind of crime she committed. In that court the judge didn't mention "salty.""

Yes I should have made myself more clear. I was talking about the Taipei times article that stated " Taiwan High Court on Tuesday sentenced a blogger who wrote that a restaurant’s beef noodles were too salty to 30 days in detention"
She never mentioned the flavor of the food in her blog.


"How on earth do you know that she ate after she saw the rouch ?"

Like you said the "salty dish" was mentioned in the second court. Also In the same second court she said that she ordered the food to go(take out).So she could eat it back at her office. Which means she left the the restaurant with the food before she tasted it. Right? And she states that she saw a roach at the counter but she says she has only been to the restaurant once. So that only can mean she saw the roach and then went to her office and ate her salty dish.


"She does not live in the neighborhood like she says in her post."

Irrelevant.

Yes it is irrelevant but true.


"You messed it up totally. She wrote the blog right after she went to the restaurant. The owner didn't bring it to the court until one year later."


No you have it wrong. Yes she did write the blog after she had an argument outside the restaurant. But that is not the same day or even same year that she says that she ate at the restaurant. She ate at the restaurant in 2008. The argument and the blog was in 2009. So why wait one whole year before you write a blog about a restaurant? Could it be because of anger over a parking issue?

Taiwan Echo [26/6/11 07:37] said...

Anon:

I didn't find the blog original article and the first verdict until two hrs ago. I still couldn't find the 2nd verdict.

From that, you are right about the timing.

I can't verify "She does not live in the neighborhood" 'cos no source can support that so far.

I can't verify "In the same second court she said that she ordered the food to go(take out)", either.

If you have sources supporting the above, I'd like to know. Thanks.

Btw, the "two rulings" of "criminal" and "civil" courts I mentioned above is probably wrong. The description itself is right( that is, a defamation has two parts of punishments). But it seems that in this case the first court (in Feb but not in March) is the first ruling, that she appealed. The 2nd court is the court to deal with her appeal, in which the case is finalized.

Michael Fagan [27/6/11 03:50] said...

"...but I don't agree with the idea that a blogger may publish whatever he or she wants..."

So much for free speech.

justrecently [27/6/11 05:48] said...

So much for quoting other people incorrectly, Mike.

Michael Fagan [27/6/11 11:13] said...

It was not incorrect, it was a selection of the most important part; your deselected qualifier begs the same question as any other restriction on free speech and that's why I discarded it.

justrecently [27/6/11 15:44] said...

"Free speech" is a fundamental right. To be protected against slander is another. If I want to suggest something that can seriously harm someone else's business or reputation, I'm obliged to provide evidence. That's a decent rule, and it is usually an earmark of countries like "Communist" China that subjects individuals to slander without a chance to defend themselves against it.

justrecently [27/6/11 19:27] said...

A pretty extensive account of the story here.

justrecently [27/6/11 19:30] said...

Note: MKL, the blogger, seems to assume that the lady has actually been jailed. The noteworthy part to me is the description of the blogpost itself.

Michael Fagan [27/6/11 20:11] said...

""Free speech" is a fundamental right. To be protected against slander is another."

To be protected against slander is not a "fundamental right".

However, the freedom to seek means of redressing slander is a right.

They are two categorically different things.

justrecently [27/6/11 22:20] said...

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead is a British lawyer and a retired Law Lord, Mike. This is what he said in 1999, on an issue which involved freedom of expression:

This appeal concerns the interaction between two fundamental rights: freedom of expression and protection of reputation.

I'm quoting from Nicholls to be on the safe side, concerning technical terms.

I don't know your background, but the categories that may apply in your own native country (not sure where you are from) won't necessarily apply elsewhere.

Taiwan Echo [27/6/11 22:31] said...

"Note: MKL, the blogger, seems to assume that the lady has actually been jailed. The noteworthy part to me is the description of the blogpost itself."

MKL's so-called detailed post contains a lot of misleading information by itself. It's ironic to see such a lousy post claiming (and be applauded by many) to be a good job.

For example, he highlights why the news came out in June when the court ruling was delivered in February (She was convicted in February 2011, no idea why the media reports about it now!), making it sound like some sort of conspiracy.

But if he did enough digging as he claimed he did but others didn't, he would have found out that there were 2 courts -- thus 2 verdicts -- and the one in Feb was the first instance, to which the accused appealed. The news came out in June simply because the ruling of the appealing court was delivered at that time.

He slammed other English bloggers for not verifying news with those written in Chinese. But if he did (or has his wife read for him), and did some simple researches as he claimed he did, he would have found out that the news of the first court (written in Chinese) are all over the place back in March already. So the news about this case is not "just come out in June."

So, simply look a little further, MKL's article, which spent quite a lot focus on slamming other bloggers, looks like slamming at his own work, too.

justrecently [27/6/11 22:40] said...

I'm not into slamming either yours nor his, Echo. That's why I'm reading and commenting on both blogs. But if I really wanted to put the case in question here together so as to fully understand it, I'd most probably need to read more than just one source.

Taiwan Echo [27/6/11 22:56] said...

@justrecently,

Your attitude is what we need in the blog sphere. Even professional writers made mistakes or missed some facts sometime, let alone bloggers like us who write without pay.

So whomever MKL criticized, their occasional "miss the point" doesn't affect the overall high quality of their blogs. Those errors made in MKL's own post doesn't automatically disqualify his blog, either.

But when one wrote an article containing lots of unchecked and misleading info, and in that same article spent considerable focus to criticize others those same mistakes, it does look funny to me.

justrecently [28/6/11 14:12] said...

I think we agree on many things, Echo, although apparently not about freedom of speech in the way discussed in this thread.

But I'm sometimes skeptical if Tsai Ing-wen will be able to shape the style of Taiwanese political discussions to some extent. To me, she would look like sort of a role model. But there are moments when I'm wondering if she won't go under in a sea of sectarianism.

Anyway - her nomination could be a great opportunity to communicate and discuss policies in a somewhat more dispassionate way - at times. Not that passion would always be out of place.

Michael Fagan [28/6/11 17:21] said...

"I don't know your background, but the categories that may apply in your own native country (not sure where you are from) won't necessarily apply elsewhere."

I was making a normative claim; appeals to authority, or to what may be legally instantiated here or there are therefore quite beside the point.

justrecently [28/6/11 17:46] said...

Thanks for the discussion, Mike.

Taiwan Echo [29/6/11 00:29] said...

@justrecently:

Not quite sure about what u meant by "she won't go under in a sea of sectarianism." Do you mean bowing to the influence of the extreme TI side ? If yes, then, don't worry :)

Agree that Tsai casts positive effect in terms of constructive political conversations.

justrecently [29/6/11 21:45] said...

No, I don't think she'll bow to it. But even to an administration with clearer policies than president Ma's, to communicate goals and steps toward them in a way that will be plausible to a very critical, and sometimes distrustful public (within the pan-green camp and probably beyond) will be a huge challenge.
I think Tsai is better equipped to be an efficient communicator than many other politicians (who, in turn, may be better orators). But many news people may pay more attention to passion in politics than to explanations.

It takes genuine interest in politics to be prepared to listen to Tsai. That's exactly why I'm very glad that she has become the DPP's nominee. Yet both the election campaign and, if she gets elected, her presidency, will depend on the medias' and the individual citizens' preparedness to be focused on issues, more often than on feelings. It's a big experiment, I believe.

MKL [1/7/11 00:22] said...

But when one wrote an article containing lots of unchecked and misleading info, and in that same article spent considerable focus to criticize others those same mistakes, it does look funny to me.

Lots of unchecked and misleading info is a bit exaggerated, don't you think? I did miss the point that there were 2 trials and corrected this part in my post right after you have reminded me (you can read my reply to you on my blog post). However, the second trial didn't change anything, only additional people testified. All the things I mentioned in my initial version were right and unlike many other bloggers, I did go into research and did not blindly follow the Taipei Times (or Liberty Times). The story is complex and over the course of the 3 days, when my post was so popular, I have corrected many things, also with help of the commentators, because my point is not to make a story, but to report a story and to understand an issue before passing judgment. I have no problem admitting the things I wrote wrong and correcting them. How about some other bloggers? From what I saw, not really. If it's funny to you, that I spent so much time to try to understand this issue, then you can laugh. But it doesn't change the fact that so many of you just didn't do your homework as bloggers. Mine wasn't perfect, but at least it was done and improved very fast. My criticism of some Taiwan blogs is still valid. I just hope all of us can learn something from this case (I did) - if that's achieved, then I did contribute something to this "online community".

justrecently [1/7/11 18:17] said...

When you call bloggers sloppy, some of them will be angry, MKL. Actually, you won't even need to call them sloppy, and they might already be angry.

Let's enjoy the traffic. I haven't seen an amount even close to the one I've got with this salt-and-roach issue. ;-)

Taiwan Echo [3/7/11 15:47] said...

@MKL,

My original reply to your msg has evolved into a long article,

More on the speech freedom case of a food blogger
http://echotaiwan.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-on-speech-freedom-case-of-food.html

Taiwan Echo [3/7/11 15:49] said...

"Let's enjoy the traffic. I haven't seen ..."

Close to the end of my new article(see my reply to MKL), I've directed readers to your post. So, you might get more ... :) :)

justrecently [4/7/11 23:03] said...

Added an update to your latest post about the case to my post, too, Echo, but it's no longer on the first page, and interest seems to be dying down now...

Thanks for the link!

Taiwan Echo [5/7/11 12:42] said...

justrecently,

Thanks. But, I can't find your first post. Can you link to your own posts, in where you said,

"This is no blog about legal issues, as I have mentioned in previous posts"

?

justrecently [5/7/11 13:17] said...

There is no earlier post of mine about the noodle restaurant court case. "Previous posts" refers to other posts - not Taiwan-related - which involved law, too.

Similarly, I usually add such a note when I'm writing about financial issues - no reader should take that as advice "to buy or not to buy".

Swatloski [24/9/11 06:13] said...

Great blog you have!

hiit from interval training