Those found guilty of spreading fake news with regard to infectious diseases or epidemics could see an even heftier fine of up to NT$3mn (US$95,439) in addition to jail time.
The Taiwanese Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s equivalent of Parliament) passed the amendment to Article 46, Item 1 of the country’s Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation.
This now reads: “Spreading rumours or falsehoods regarding food safety and participating in the causation of harm to the general public or other individuals will be punishable by up to three years imprisonment, criminal detention or a fine of NT$1mn or less.”
Member of parliament Liu Jianguo, who made the original proposal for amendments, said that the the new laws governing the spreading of news involving fake food and infectious disease was to avoid panic in the public.
“It is necessary to amend the laws to increase fines [so as to] deter false news from spreading and being viewed by society,” he told China Times.
Taiwan Food and Drug Adminstration Food Division Head Pan Zhiyuan added that food safety news is a crucial matter for public safety, as negative effects resulting from rumours and ignorance have been on the rise due to rapid information exchange in recent years.
Pan said that the amendments to the law were meant to punish the relevant culprits and shut down food safety fake news before this resulted in ‘irreparable harm’.
“Three criteria must be met before an individual is subject to the penalty: Proof that the news being spread is fake, proof that the motive for spreading the news is malicious, and proof that harm has been caused to a specific subject,” he told ETToday.
“The concept of ‘maybe’ cases will be rejected, in order to avoid public anxiety and distress.”
The Legislative Yuan’s decision has come on the back of local news agency CTi News being fined NT$1mn (US$31,800) earlier in April this year for spreading fake news in this area.
According to Taiwan News, the local National Communications Commission (NCC) fined the media agency for ‘failing to check the veracity of a report [that 1.2mn kg] of pomelos had been discarded by farmers into a nearby reservoir’.
The NCC found that CTi News had violated the regulations surrounding information verification and ‘harmed public interests’.
In an interview the previous month, CTi News had spoken to a man claiming that the pomelos had been dumped into the Zengwen reservoir, but NCC claimed that the statement had not been verified.
In a separate report, Taiwan News also said that there were signs in the country that ‘China is trying to influence local politics by spreading fake news’.