Hospital case highlights right to criticize

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/22 20:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

A patient in Handan, Hebei Province, was detained for "fabricating facts" and "disturbing social order" after complaining online about the food quality and cost in a local hospital canteen. Although the police later apologized for the detention, the event has triggered a public uproar. Where is the boundary between online rumors and the freedom of expression? How will this case affect people's power of supervision over authorities? The Global Times collected three opinions on this issue.

Police must be held accountable for error

According to the local police bureau, the officer issuing the detention had been suspended for "inappropriate application of the law" and the local police branch was ordered to re-examine its policies to prevent a recurrence.

Complaining about the unappetizing but expensive dishes at a hospital's canteen is a common practice for customers. However, the complaint was regarded as a "rumor" by the police and eventually led to the patient's detention. Local police were wayward in the enforcement of the law. The random detention may have violated the justified right of supervision over the authorities.

It is a basic right for citizens to criticize and supervise the local government, celebrities, enterprises and other institutions via different platforms.

As long as it is not a malicious rumor or defamation, a complaint about a meal is justified supervision of the hospital. It is an effective way for customers to protect their rights. "I wanted to faint" at the scant amount of food in the meal, the customer complained. Even if the wording was too harsh, the event falls within the realm of civil disputes, in which the police have no right to interfere.

Allegations that hospital meals are insipid and overpriced are legitimate, as the hospital canteen acknowledged that it would modestly accept the criticism. Whether the meals are terrible depends on individual taste, and customers have the right to make judgments based on their own feelings. While the canteen was magnanimous in accepting the criticism, why did the police overreact to the complaint and even accuse the customer of "fabricating facts" and "disturbing social order?"

The local police's attitude to the complaint is not surprising. On the surface, the police were wayward in the enforcement of the law, but in essence, they were craving for "performance" at the cost of customers' rights.

Local television news had praised the police branch for having cracked down on two cases of "spreading falsehoods" and "disrupting public order" within the previous 100 days. Anxious for quick success and instant benefits, the police randomly detained the innocent netizen to bolster their performance.

In the era of the Internet, law-enforcement authorities should learn to squarely face negative remarks and be open to criticism. Undoubtedly, the detention is highly inappropriate, and the police should respond to public concerns. An accountability mechanism should be established to prevent similar cases from happening again.

Efficiency in rectifying mistakes praised

By Shan Renping

Handan police announced on August 20 the controversial punishment of a patient who complained online about food quality at a local hospital was revoked and the police inspector and related staff have been suspended from their posts. The local police station was also ordered to apologize to the patient. Local media reported the day before that the patient spread "untrue" posts about the county hospital and was put under administrative detention for disturbing public order.

Handan police rectified the mistake within one day, and the efficiency should be praised. In a developing society such as China, misjudged cases at the grass-roots level can't be avoided completely. Police and government officials should confront problems which are pointed out by the public and respond with complete honesty. The proper attitude for officials is to find out all the details and act strictly according to the law.

We believe this unusual case is not a typical one to represent the efforts of grass-roots police. The case can't hide the fact that police in China are increasingly strengthening their efforts to handle cases in strict accordance with the law. Groans and complaints overwhelm the Internet every day. Many express extreme sentiments and are unable to stand up to scrutiny. Only a few such complaints are considered to be "vicious rumors" and receive punishment. Those who are misjudged for spreading such rumors constitute a minority.

The public will tolerate no such misjudged cases. The zero tolerance of the public is a major impetus to comprehensively rule the country according to the law. We should frankly admit that although public opinion about incorrect enforcement is blended with some emotional factors, on the whole the positive influence of feedback from the mainstream public is indispensable for the advancement of the rule of law.

China's Internet is under better management and public opinion can be expressed freely. The wrongdoing of police aroused an immediate response on the Internet. Such sensitivity is necessary for China. This will help the government to know the public will better and help create omniscient supervision by public opinion. That is essential for a country to maintain internal energy, and serves as an upward driving force.

One of the lessons we should draw from the case is that errors that are discovered by the public should be corrected promptly by institutions by meeting people halfway. We hope cases like this will keep grass-roots officials alert in preventing common sense mistakes. As the saying goes, "A fall in pit, a gain in wit."

The author is a commentator with the Global Times.

Criticism is not spreading rumors

Dissatisfied with the hospital's canteen, a netizen posted a complaint on the Internet, and was detained by local police. The public became agitated. The hospital ought to have apologized openly, as this was a case of reasonable public supervision. But the police contorted all logic by detaining the netizen.

It was questionable that local police could misjudge such a simple affair. Many netizens cast doubt on the relationship between the hospital and police.

Plainly speaking, the case reflected a significant and sensitive problem: the differences between the right of criticism and public supervision and online rumors. Clearly the local police failed to make this distinction.

As stricter regulations are put in place to combat Internet rumors, a lack of a clear understanding of netizens' rights and the definition of Internet rumors will lead to more misjudged cases.

Law officials should keep clear in their minds the boundary between the two, or risk impeding judicial credibility.

So, what is an Internet rumor? According to the Amendment to the Criminal Law, whoever "fabricates or deliberately spreads on media, including on the Internet, false information regarding dangerous situations, the spread of diseases, disasters and police information, and who seriously disturb social order" would face prison sentences - with a maximum of seven years for those whose rumors result in "serious consequences."

It is obvious that the netizen's post was not an Internet rumor.

First, the post didn't belong to the above categories of false messages. It was harmless to public security and social order, thus lacking the fundamental attribute of Internet rumors.

Second, the conclusion of the post was drawn from comparative prices of the market. Whether this was true or not could be verified by investigation.

Third, the post was the person's evaluation of a public service, the right of which is protected by law and can't be suppressed.

As a result, the case should not only be "rectified" but police officers at fault should be held accountable. Only in this way can we set an example in educating the local police and prevent a recurrence of a similar case.

To avoid such cases at the root, we should make clear what an Internet rumor is.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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