A food blogger in Taiwan was recently fined $7,000 and sentenced to two years probation for a negative food review in Taichung and the owner successfully sued her for defamation. The move leaves me wondering just what the future of Taiwanese food blogging will be if negative reviews are grounds for litigation.
The allegations made against the blogger, only identified as Liu (劉) actually appealed a previous ruling from the Taichung District Court sentencing her to 30 days in prison. The court found a comment about cockroaches in the restaurant not to be slander, but that a comment the food was too salty was a mistake because the blogger only tried one dish. The $7,000 fine was for what the owner claimed was lost wages. More frightening is that the lawsuit seems to have begun a precedent.
Commenters have disparaged Taiwan for trying to silence the voice of a critic. To be fair though, Taiwan’s freedom of expression is generally good. In fact, watchdog organization FreedomHouse.org rates Taiwan relatively well in terms of freedom of expression. It’s not as free as the United States, but it’s relatively close.
At the same time though, a number of incidents concerning to places like Freedom House, such as 2008 clashes between police and protesters over the visit of a Chinese envoy, and more recent shuffling of public television executives. In fact, concerns have recently arisen that freedoms in Taiwan have recently been eroded, especially for bloggers and the press.
This decision is a severe black eye for Taiwan. Food critics, like any other critic, should be open to express reasonable criticism without fear of retribution. It is of utmost importance that said critics be given space to give an impartial criticism, and it is ultimately for the benefit of all parties that such criticism be allowed. In the end, criticism such as this can benefit everyone, so long as owners take the criticism and use it to better themselves.
Another Food Critic stands behind Liu and her review.