Goran Malmqvist is a Swedish linguist specializing in Chinese. (File Photo/CFP)
Two weeks after Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer was awarded this year's Nobel prize for literature, controversy remains in Taiwan with Swedish linguist and translator Goran Malmqvist writing to President Ma Ying-jeou to complain about false reports in Taiwan's media that the name of this year's winner had been leaked before its official announcement, reports which went uncorrected even after they had been shown to be false.
Malmqvist, a prominent sinologist known by his Chinese name Ma Yueran in the Chinese-speaking world, was on the committee for this year's literature award. Late last month a microblog post by the Chinese author Zhang Yiyi said that the identity of this year's Nobel literature laureate had been leaked ahead of time. Zhang said — wrongly — that this year's winner was the US-based Chinese writer Yan Geling. This post was picked up by Taiwan's Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International.
Malmqvist's wife Chen Wenfen on Oct. 18 filed a complaint signed by herself and her husband with the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying they were upset by the report and even more that it was not subsequently corrected. In the couple's email to the president, they said, "I hope that as you sit in the Presidential Office, you feel somewhat embarrassed about this?"
Though not directly mentioned in the allegations, the couple feel the false report had impugned their reputations. The source of the allegations was Chinese author Zhang Yiyi, who has a reputation forlooking to make headlines and his remarks have been viewed as as an attempt to generate hype. According to the CNA report on Sep. 26 from Taipei, Zhang met fellows of the Swedish Academy last year who disclosed to him that Yan would be the winner of this year's literature prize. This "was said to be a careless disclosure from the wife of a member of the committee," the director of the international news center at CNA wrote in a letter of apology to Chen on Oct. 18, saying the surce of the story came from Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, and the Hong-Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po.
Chen said, "The original news on Sina actually pointed out that Dai Jianye, a professor at Huazhong Normal University (in Wuhan) immediately checked out this report with the New York Times and the Washington Post when he heard of it but he didn't see any news about it. This news requires further verification."
CNA disregarded this caution and reported on Sep. 26 that Yan was this year's Nobel literature laureate. "According to other mainland China media, Yan is on the committee for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay; she is known worldwide in literary circles and is one of the most influential contemporary Chinese female writers," CNA reported.
CNA has since issued a public apology for reporting the rumor. A spokesperson for the new agency said that when its editors reproduced what Zhang said on Sina Weibo, their focus was the possibility that a Chinese writer could be this year's winner. The Sina post did not mention the names of Malmqvist or his wife, nor did the editors fully appreciate the background behind the source.
Second, CNA affirmed its great respect for Malmqvist's integrity as well as his concern for Chinese writers. The agency did not credit Zhang Yiyi as the source of the report. Although neither Malmqvist nor his wife were named in the report, CNA expressed its regret for for not having verified the story before publishing it.
The Presidential Office meanwhile responded on Oct. 19 to say that the complaint has been passed to the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's cabinet. The Executive Yuan will process this case and issue a reply in line with normal procedures, the response said.
Chen also said via Facebook that she had also received this standard response from the Presidential Office. She said her husband expected that under Ma's administration, CNA should be an honest news agency that does not file ambiguous or irresponsible reports.
Ma Yueran 馬悅然
Zhang Yiyi 張一一
Chen Wenfen 陳文芬
Yan Geling 嚴歌苓
Central News Agency中央通訊社
Radio Taiwan International 中央廣播電台
Wen Wei Po《文匯報》