'Crouching Tiger' Actress Demands Journalist Reveal Sources Behind Prostitution Story
Cannes Unveils Un Certain Regard, Camera d'Or Juries
On Friday, a California federal court will play host to an important hearing in actress Zhang Ziyi's defamation lawsuit against U.S.-based China Free Press and a journalist over published claims that she is a prostitute who has earned more than $100 million for having sexual relations with high-ranking Chinese officials.
The battle has enormous stakes.
Zhang, who has starred in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and Rush Hour 2, is looking to force Weican Null Meng, who writes for the Chinese dissident news website Boxun, to give up the sources that led to his prostitution reports. Zhang says the scandal has cost her quite a bit of income in the entertainment industry and ruined potential endorsement deals with luxury designer brand Michael Kors, French automaker Citroen and others.
But this is hardly the typical defamation case.
The defendants are gearing up for the Friday hearing that will determine whether and how the lawsuit proceeds. Lives will be on the line.
The stories originally gained attention not only due to the inclusion of a famous actress but also Bo Xilai, a former member of China's Communist government who was ousted from his post and entangled in a political scandal that forced his house arrest on charges of playing a role in the murder of a British businessman. The scandal drew international news attention, and Meng reported an untold aspect of the story -- that Bo and other high-level Communist Party officials in China had hired Zhang as a prostitute.
The stories were picked up by a plethora of news outlets including CNN, The Huffington Post and Yahoo.
Zhang's libel lawsuit that followed said the prostitution story was based on anonymous stories and not true at all and that when Boxun News was contacted about the falsity of the allegations, the publication refused to run a retraction.
Meng's attorney Marc Randazza then stood up to challenge the lawsuit as a "SLAPP," meaning an alleged use of the legal process to interfere with his client's First Amendment rights. In this instance, Randazza said the actress' legal move "seemed like a clever Chinese government plan to flush out the source, or, as a consolation prize, to shut down a journalistic gadfly."
In bringing an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the claims, Randazza also says the suit was filed "solely to create a Hobson's choice for its defendants: Either divulge their anonymous sources inside the People's Republic of China so that they may be subject to cruel, unusual and inhumane persecution, or surrender their own rights to free expression under the United States Constitution."
During the course of the litigation, Meng testified that there were three sources that formed the basis of his reports. "Source A" was someone Meng had relied upon extensively in the past who had learned the information from a Chinese businessman who was arrested as part of the corruption case against Bo. This primary source is described by the journalist as having a track record of reliability. "Source B" was an entertainment industry insider or a researcher in the social science area who had familiarity with the entertainment business. "Source C" was a freelance reporter Zhao Yan, who formerly worked for The New York Times and was arrested in China for leaking info about the Chinese leadership to foreign media.