Broadcast trial tests public’s legal awareness

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-13 18:58:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

Four executives of China's online video service company Qvod stood trial last week in Beijing on charges of spreading pornography for profit. During the two-day trial that was broadcast live on the Internet, prosecutors and defendants as well as their lawyers debate drastically over technical and procedure issues. This has ignited hot debate among the public. How should the trial be viewed? The Global Times collected three opinion pieces about the matter.

Netizens will learn to accept rule of law

The trial in Haidian District People's Court has garnered high attention. In particular, it is rare for netizens to see the defendants defend themselves in such an eloquent manner.

The People's Daily soon released an opinion piece, saying however captivating the Qvod's argument was, it deserved no applause. This was followed by a Xinhua article arguing that the self-defense of Qvod executives deserves applause. The seeming squabbles of the two official media outlets created a new hot topic. However, they commented on the case from different angles but pointed in a similar direction. The former focused on facts, morality and legal standards while the latter on procedural justice. 

The Qvod trial reflects that on the Internet clear standards and value orientations have not been formed. Under the circumstance, the broadcasting of the trial and open discussions are significant in bringing out various opinions and helping in legal education.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the law will get the right publicity in this case. The court's ruling will be critical for the public to measure the distance between their views and the legal standards, nevertheless this is an ideal that may not be fully realized. After all, some Chinese put their values above the law and may even intend to influence the court's verdict by adding pressure.

It took a huge amount of courage for the Haidian court to broadcast the Qvod case. We have faith in that the court has due determination to hear the case and give a just verdict regardless of squabbles online.

A verdict that deviates from what netizens expect may bring huge pressure on the judicial organs but meanwhile correct the public's understanding. More insistence of this kind will gradually make the rule of law accepted by Internet users.  

It's noteworthy that online voices are a double-edged sword and can also play a positive role in promoting impartial law enforcement. It's easier for the court to accept the monitoring of online opinions in an active fashion rather than the aggressive views online being corrected by court's ruling.

The entrepreneurs of Qvod are all young people that were deemed Internet pioneers and hence win sympathy easily. However, if legal verdicts are not taken as the primary standard to distinguish right and wrong, then we have more possibilities to be misled by the superficial things and illusions.

Global Times

Knotty cases need judicial explanations

The Qvod trial has become a public focus. Netizens are divided on assessing the performance of prosecutors and defendants, the excuse of technical neutrality and matters derived from the case, such as real name registration for Internet access, protection of minors and technical standards.

The bickering aroused by the trial relates to the size of the Qvod user base, judicial openness and advanced technologies in network communication. Diversified readers about the trial indicate the netizens' unlevel perception of the rule of law.

Discussions and disputes can also prompt the judicial organs to bring visible justice in individual cases. But some technical and legal factors in this case can neither be isolated from nor manipulated by public opinion. Broadcasting the trial is intended to ensure legal independence through public monitoring rather than to try the case by Internet users.

In Qvod case, the audience's understanding of network technology has become a critical element in judgment. Many netizens easily equal Qvod with merely being a video player. The instrumental nature of a technology makes it naturally neutral under the law. In many cases in recent years, technical neutrality is considered as an excuse to exempt online service providers from responsibilities.   

But technical neutrality may also face legal and moral boundaries. For many professionals in network technology, Qvod offered videos through peer-to-peer video streaming technology and hence was actually a transmitter other than a neutral player. If the resources provided by Qvod involve illegal elements, Qvod is unlikely to evade its legal responsibility.

The result of the Qvod case depends on judgment from the perspective of technology and law. Open trial is a way to ensure fairness and justice, but it is also designed to promote law education for the public. For the public, cases like Qvod involve professional background that goes beyond the range of most people's knowledge. With open and independent trial, judicial organs need to make proper use of Internet technology and disperse the public's doubts about the verdict.

All in all, in the Qvod case the mixture of technology and law, of public reactions and legal considerations has raised new requirements for judicial practices in the age of Internet. Judicial organs have to accept public monitoring and stick to independent and fair trials, and meanwhile respond to public concerns in a timely manner.

Beijing News

Public monitoring helps secure fairness

After the two-day trial, over 90 percent of interviewed netizens believe that Qvod is not guilty. It may go unexpected for those who decide to broadcast the sensitive trial as it turns out to be so unfavorable for prosecutors.

The overwhelming online support for Qvod primarily comes from the brilliant defense offered by the defendants and their lawyers. By contrast, the prosecutors appeared to be poorly prepared and reacted lamely. Apparently defendants are far more persuasive for online audiences that somewhat serve as the Chinese version of a jury.

But undeniably, people's judgments differ over Qvod's innocence. Some netizens consider neither Qvod nor its alleged dissemination of pornography guilty given the paradox that having sex is not a crime but watching it is one.

But in the social context of China, a ban on public dissemination of pornographic audio-visual products is widely backed. And a basic rule of law-based society is to judge the legality of a behavior pursuant to the articles of law.

Since China's laws stipulate that disseminating pornographic audio-visual products is a crime, then we cannot label Qvod's dissemination of pornography as innocent.

Obviously the defendants and their lawyers didn't object to the regulation and instead strategically defended their ignorance since it is no crime to develop technology and they said they have no knowledge of pornography on the Qvod platform.

It is widely hoped that the following trials in the Qvod case will continue to be broadcast online so that the public can observe the debate and a verdict can be made on thorough deliberation. Besides, the debate between prosecutors and defendants will help build the authority of law and convince the audience.

In this sense, although in the latest open trial the ill-prepared prosecutors seemed to be passive and the trial didn't go well as expected, the public still hopes that the trials in the Qvod case will continue to be broadcast and such broadcasting can become a regular mechanism.

Trial under public monitoring can be a reliable way for people to seek judicial fairness.

Beijing Youth Daily

Posted in: Viewpoint

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