China court punishes paper for AIDS report

A Chinese court on Monday ordered compensation and an apology for a girl orphaned by AIDS after a newspaper reported her story without permission, stirring a dispute over the boundary between media rights and privacy.

Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court ordered the local Chinese-language China Times to pay the 19-year-old girl 20,000 yuan ($2,500) and publish an apology for violating her privacy in a report published last December.

The girl surnamed Gao from the central province of Henan lost her parents after they contracted AIDS by selling blood.

In the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of Henan farmers contracted HIV from commercial blood stations that often combined the blood of sellers into common vats, separated out the valuable plasma, and then transfused the remaining corpuscles back into sellers, saving money but quickly spreading AIDS.

In a report marking World AIDS Day, the newspaper told of the abuses Gao suffered after her parents’ deaths and printed a photo of her.

The daily was not the first to report Gao’s story, but that it did so without her permission enraged Jin Wei, an AIDS activist close to Gao.

“With AIDS, even well-intentioned people can do bad things,” Jin told Reuters. “We want to make the point that citizens’ privacy rights should be respected, especially when they face discrimination as AIDS sufferers.”

The court said discrimination against people associated with AIDS remains active in China.

“It was undoubtedly unfavourable to the plaintiff’s future life that the respondent revealed these facts,” according to the judgement seen by Reuters.

The paper said it did not intentionally violate Gao’s rights and offered to apologise without compensation, according to the judgement. Gao’s lawyer, Yang Shaogang, said she may appeal for more compensation.

China has an estimated 650,000 people with HIV/AIDS, though some experts say the number may be higher.

In February, China issued regulations on AIDS, banning discrimination against sufferers.

Editors from China Times could not be contacted after many phone calls, but a lawyer for the newspaper, Zhou Yong, said his client was considering its options. Gao, who is still in high school, was not available for comment.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD