A Media Civil Lawsuit in China

This is the translation of an article about a case of the media being found guilty of invasion of privacy in China.  This is somewhat unusual, in that the particular television station was found guilty on account of the act of re-transmitting a CCTV program that had already been shown.  So how come CCTV can do it but not this station?  Read on.

(original source unknown, but posted at 6Park)

A television station in Nanjing was sued for broadcasting a CCTV program.  The principals sued the television at the Jiangsu province Nanjing city Gulou district People's Court for damaging their reputations and asked for total compensation of 20,336 yuan.  Today, the court rendered the decision that the television station lost its case and must compensate the plaintiffs for 10,336 yuan.  Afterwards, the defendant wondered: how come CCTV can show it, but we can't?

The under-aged girl Little Phoenix lives in the Lihu district of Nanjing and had been repeatedly raped by her brother-in-law.  One day earlier this year, the brother-in-law wanted to do his evil deed on the girl again.  The sister and the mother told the Little Phoenix to "endure it one more time" so that they can obtain proof and then report him.  As a result, the brother-in-law was arrested and sentenced to nine years in jail.

The CCTV program "Moral Observations" learned about the case and came to Nanjing to interview the family.  They promised certain conditions of privacy to the victim and then the family was interviewed.  The program was shown on CCTV as scheduled.

But the victimized sisters did not expect that after the CCTV program was shown, a local Nanjing television station would re-broadcast an edited version of the CCTV program on four occasions between July 27 and August 1 this year until the title of "The Consequences of Appeasement."  Little Phoenix and her sister both saw the programs.  Other people around them also saw the program and identified the sisters.  Afterwards, the sisters approached the television station about this invasion of their privacy.

At the end of August, the two took the television station to court on the grounds that their rights to privacy had been severely violated.  They claimed: the defendant made no technical adjustments in the program and undisguisedly presented the images of the rape victim Little Phoenix and the other plaintiff Little Peony and her mother to the public and reported the private details about the two plaintiffs.  The defendant had not interviewed the plaintiffs and made the program without their consent.  Furthermore, the defendant showed the program multiple times to the public, revealing the plaintiffs' family and private details, causing their acquaintances and neighbors to discuss the case and bringing mental anguish to the plaintiffs.  As a result, the plaintiff Little Phoenix could no longer attend school and was physically and psychologically distressed.  The two plaintiffs wanted the defendant to be found guilty of damaging their reputations and assume the civil liability through an apology and compensation to the amount of 20,000 yuan for causing mental anguish, plus 336 yuan in economic damages.

The defendant claimed: the plaintiffs willingly agreed to be interviewed by CCTV.  That program was publicly shown more than once across the nation.  The content of the program was already public and followed the description provided by the plaintiffs themselves.  The television shots were also taken with the cooperation of the plaintiffs.  In the report, the plaintiffs were given pseudonyms.  The broadcast content did not exceed the content in the CCTV report, and all the images were the same ones that were shown on CCTV.  Therefore, the defendant did not violate the privacy of the plaintiffs and therefore requested the complaint to be dismissed.

The court reasoned as follows: the defendant did not broadcast an ordinary piece of news, as the subject concerns the privacy of the plaintiffs, especially that of the under-aged Little Phoenix.  At the same time when the defendant was criticizing "appeasement," it should also pay attention to protecting the privacy of others; if they revealed the private matters of people, they should obtain the consent of the principals.  Although the plaintiffs explained that they accepted to be interviewed by CCTV and agreed with the substance of the CCTV program, this is not equivalent to unlimited consent.  The request to make technical processing of the images is intended to make sure that other people won't link the broadcast content to the principals and thus preserve their privacy.

The defendant claimed that the video images came originally from CCTV, and they were all the original video images shown by CCTV.  The defendant claimed that there was no longer anything secret about the "private issues" of the plaintiffs.  But the defendant was not able to prove that its broadcast content was completely identical to the CCTV broadcast concerning the technical processing of the images of the individuals.  At the same time, whether the defendant has the right to broadcast is not completely based upon whether some other media have already shown it.  The private matters of citizens should not be distributed without limitations to the whole society just because it has been publicized before. The plaintiffs had not agreed to be interviewed by the defendant, and they had not agreed to the broadcast.  Therefore, the defendant was guilty of seriously damaging the rights of the plaintiffs to privacy and must therefore bear the civil consequences.