Chinese and Taiwanese flags in Taipei. Photo: Reuters
Chinese and Taiwanese flags in Taipei. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s Executive Yuan has introduced a series of amendments to existing laws to curb the spread of disinformation from across the Taiwan Strait.

Among them, a draft addendum to the Radio and Television Act stipulates that operators of news outlets and radio and television stations are responsible for producing evidence to corroborate their claims and assertions, especially when it comes to key politicians and the military.

If, after an investigation of a report by the island’s radio and TV watchdog it is found that media outlets have failed to do so, this will result in a fine of up to NT$1 million (US$32,400), according to the Central News Agency.

It is also said the island’s legislature will likely give its backing to a digital communications bill amendment tabled by the government. This will require operators of online bulletins and social networking apps to remove false information within 24 hours of receiving formal notice from the government. Failure to do so will lead to a fine.

Yet a related draft was met with strong objections from the Asia Internet Coalition this week, with the Taiwan branches of Facebook, Google, Line and LinkedIn impugning the motives of the amendment. They say sporadic false information or untrue reports should not be dealt with in any way that may undermine the freedom of speech.

In an open letter to Taiwanese Premier William Lai and the legislature, the coalition demand that the Executive Yuan withdraw the bill for revisions.

But Lai stressed the government’s resolve to combat a “disinformation war” waged by China through technology and new legislation.

Freedom of speech formed the bedrock of Taiwan’s democracy, but if unregulated, the Internet and social media would further exacerbate the spread of disinformation, Lai said.

The island was inundated with “fake news” throughout 2018, with much of it originating from China, according to Taiwanese cybersecurity agents who trace the IP sources of dubious or fabricated allegations against Taiwanese leaders.

In one extreme case, unsubstantiated reports in September about Chinese diplomats in Osaka helping evacuate stranded Taiwanese tourists during the passage of Supertyphoon Jebi were blamed for the suicide of a top Taiwanese envoy posted to the Japanese city.

Meanwhile, an amendment to the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act also recommends heavier fines for those spreading false information about disasters as well as a custodial term of up to 10 years.

In addition, a proposed addendum to the Nuclear Emergency Response Act seeks to penalize those who spread disinformation about nuclear accidents.

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