Not long ago, Chinese-language weekly magazine Mirror Media reported that a Taiwanese Internet celebrity had a “one-night stand” arranged via a gay dating app. The celebrity was single, but the other party in the date provided screenshots of their online conversation to the magazine, which then ran the story.
The media, which are often referred to as the “fourth estate,” and the public have little awareness of personal privacy.
From a legal perspective, the first issue is that the informant clearly violated the Personal Data Protection Act (個人資料保護法) by offering the screenshots to the magazine.
The conversation involves the celebrity’s sexual orientation and sex life, which are considered “special personal information” protected by Article 6 of the act.
Under such circumstances, if the informant provided infromation to the media for profit, the informant would be criminally liable as stipulated in Article 41 of the act. For the same reason, the magazine’s exposure of the celebrity’s personal information unarguably contravenes the law.
However, the second and underlying issue is whether public figures have such right to personal privacy, and how to define the scope of freedom of the press.
Simply put, every person has the right to decide whether to make their sexual orientation public. Some might think that an Internet celebrity is a public figure and that their personal privacy should be sacrificed in the name of press freedom. However, freedom of the press, as defined by the Constitution, refers to the freedom of media providing “valuable” news, promoting public affairs or monitoring the government.
Is a celebrity’s sexual orientation or sex life really “valuable” news content, or is it meaningless gossip? The answer is self-evident.
The third issue is that the case involves harassment against sexual a minority by the media which have shown little awareness of gender equality.
It is not the first report of its kind. Several years ago, the now-closed Next Magazine ran a report of a television anchor allegedly meeting with someone after an online conversation on a gay dating app.
Why has only the latest report caused public anger? The latest infringing on the Internet celebrity’s personal privacy came at a time when issues such as marriage equality and gender diversity have built momentum.
On May 24, 2017, the Council of Grand Justices issued Constitutional Interpretation No. 748 in support of same-sex marriage.
It stated: “In our country, homosexuals were once denied by social tradition and custom in the past. As a result, they have long been locked in the closet and suffered various forms of de facto or de jure exclusion or discrimination.”
It also stated: “Besides, homosexuals, because of the population structure, have been a discrete and insular minority in the society,” and added that, impacted by gender stereotypes, LGBT people have long been a politically, legally and socially disadvantaged minority.
Unfortunately, the magazine exposed the Web celebrity’s personal affairs in a very coarse manner and publicly outed the person — it makes one wonder if the magazine was deliberately promoting discrimination against LGBT people.
In a failed attempt to undo the damage, the magazine issued repeated apologies, claiming that it is most supportive of marriage equality, and argued that the report only accidentally touched upon the sensitive issue of sexual orientation.
However, it is clear that it is not aware of and does not respect gender diversity and sexual autonomy.
The report, regardless of whether it was intentional, reinforced stereotypes about LGBT people, which contributes to hampering years of efforts many others have made promoting gender equality.
The Legislative Yuan passed the Act for Implementation of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748 (司法院釋字第748號解釋施行法) last year, and significant portions of society and many social groups continue to fight for true gender equality. It is understandable that the report has caused so much public anger.
The Web celebrity turned the insult into an opportunity and published a video in response to the magazine.
Amid heightened attention to human rights issues and public sympathy for disadvantaged minorities, the magazine has been strongly criticized, and has now released protocols of internal meetings in the wake of the report, attempting to clarify its handling of the matter and hoping to mend the situation.
News fades and is forgotten as time goes by. However, to recover from trauma sustained by seeing one’s sensitive personal information published takes a long time, and sometimes trauma remains for a lifetime.
The case does not only involve the issue of sexual orientation: Another issue that needs to be addressed is the chaotic situation of media firms infringing on people’s privacy.
Does sensationalized reporting about the dating and sex life of a single man or woman fall within the scope of press freedom protection?
Despite an involved party’s gender or sexual orientation, if the person is not married or in a relationship, practices safe sex and does not take drugs, the news media, the private sector, as well as the public must respect personal privacy, including personal information and sexual orientation. Together, they should dismiss hostile reporting, such as in this case.
Moreover, when people click on such news, they increase the Web site’s traffic and boost its revenue through advertising. With each click they also rub salt in the victim’s wounds.
Lily Chien is a lawyer. Benson Chang teaches Chinese at a senior-high school.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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