Celebrities battle we-media to protect reputation

Photo: thedrum.com

The recent court hearing in a case in which Chinese actor and singer Wu Yifan sued a self-media platform for damaging his reputation has triggered a heated discussion about how to build a healthy Internet environment in China.

In December last year, a self-media operator published an article online revealing that Wu took drugs. The article was condemned as "ungrounded" by Wu, who said that it badly damaged his personal image. After the first instance, Wu was awarded compensation of 30,000 yuan.

In the recent years, several Chinese stars have filed lawsuits against vilifications of self-media platforms. In November, actress Li Xiaolu won three lawsuits against self-media platforms, which she accused of damaging her reputation. In August, a company was ordered by a court to compensate actor Lu Han 210,000 yuan for its article that contained false information about Lu.

Reputation vs media oversight

Lawyer Zhu Xiaolei told Sino-US.com that the rise in the number of cases of celebrities suing self-media operators for defamation can be attributed to the growing legal awareness of stars, who are becoming intolerant toward the unlawful behavior of self-media platforms.

"The personal dignity of public figures must be protected by laws, especially at a time when such group of people can have a big influence on the society through what they say and do. Although the protection of celebrities' image right is limited given the fact that they should, to some extent, accept social and media supervision, comments made in the cyberspace must be controlled," said Zhu.

For courts, it is important to draw a clear line between celebrities' demand for protecting their reputation and the need for oversight by the media when dealing with such cases. Normally, judicial bodies have reached a consensus on the principle of public figures "having the responsibility to endure slight mental injury".

"People are free to express their opinions about celebrities in terms of acting skill, appearance, personal style and even moral quality," said Zhu.

On the other hand, stars have some difficulties in protecting their rights given that platforms are often unable to provide complete information about the legal person of a WeChat account or Weibo account, and in some cases, the legal person and the real controller of an account are not the same person, according to Zhu, adding that it leads to a consequence that the real controller of a self-media platform has no fear about fabricating information. 

What's more, the screenshots of the ungrounded information spread by self-media platforms cannot be used as a powerful evidence in the court because self-media operators can delete such information from their platforms before trials, said Zhu.

In light of it, Zhu suggested that a credit and punishment system need to be established to prevent self-media platforms from publishing false information, while the access threshold needs to be heightened.

Dark side of self-media platforms

A public relations manager from an auto company revealed that the firm annually spends a great sum of money to maintain its ties with more than 100 self-media platforms. "Even some self-media platforms with each article being only viewed by thousands of readers ask for 100,000 yuan per year, which can be actually called 'protection fee'. If we do not pay the money, we will face the risk of being 'defamed' by them," said the source.

In June, Chinese film company Huayi Brothers sued more than 10 self-media platforms for publishing articles which viciously spread false information about the company evading taxes and being investigated by the authorities, in what it called a move aimed at protecting the interests of shareholders and purifying the online communities.

JD.com, Xiaomi and Tencent have also filed lawsuits against self-media platforms publishing ungrounded information.

Some self-media platforms see writing negative stories about enterprises as a tool to make money, while some enterprises hire self-media platforms to write articles to defame their rivals, said an industry insider.

"If the negative stories are based on facts, the self-media platforms cannot be held responsible and their behavior cannot be seen as breaking the privacy law. But if the negative information is ungrounded or if the self-media platforms try to earn money by intentionally writing negative articles, it will constitute the crime of extortion and blackmail," said Zhu.

The People's Daily has commented in an article that an industry standard should be created for self-media platforms and some problematic platforms must be blacklisted if they commit crimes.

Pinchbeck reporters

In a blog named "There are 12 million fake reporters working for self-media platforms", the author said that the mission of true media is to seek truth while some self-media platforms seek money.

Lv Yanbin, a law researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the lack of access threshold and industry standard is the reason behind the emergence of fake reporters.

Fortunately, the regulators have taken actions to crack down on problematic self-media platforms.

Recently, the Ministry of Public Security announced that it unearthed 28 cases of self-media platforms hyping up false information, arrested 67 suspects and shut down 31 websites involved in these cases.

Zheng Ning, deputy director of the law department at the Communication University of China, told Sino-US.com that these moves show a sign of the government strengthening supervision and clampdown on self-media platforms spreading false information

Zheng suggested that different self-media platforms should be classified into different categories. "If the self-media platforms focus on news reporting, they need to apply for a certificate from the regulators," said Zheng.

Related Stories
Share this page
Touched Sympathetic Bored Angry Amused Sad Happy No comment

Celebrities battle we-media to protect reputationFuture home sales policies in spotlight after eastern city announces easing measuresNike still 'bullish' on China despite uncertainty about US tariffsPalace Museum uses cultural creativity to spread traditional Chinese cultureBeijing intensifies oversight on after-school tutoring in nationwide campaignApple pushes out software update to avoid China iPhone banApple pushes out software update to avoid China iPhone banChina uses Spider-Man motto to slam US over trade at tense WTO meetingChina's bike-sharing bubble finally burstsChina's manhood training club sparks controversyChina embarks on second round of soy buying post Trump-Xi truce
< Prev Next >