Press Laws Must Go

      January 08, 2008 09:04

      The Ministry of Culture and Tourism submitted a report to the presidential Transition Committee on Monday, promising to come up with alternative legislation so that the existing Newspaper Law could be scrapped in accordance with President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s campaign pledge. As a result, state-run organizations that were created by the government to aid pro-government newspapers will be transformed into independent entities.

      Just two and a half years after it was created by the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the Newspaper Law has been placed on a course for the scrap heap. There is one simple reason why the Roh administration so stubbornly insisted on the enactment of the law: to reduce the readership of newspapers that were critical of the Roh administration and to boost the number of people subscribing to dailies that sided with it. The government believed it would be able to crush critical newspapers, while propping up those that got on its good side. That basic premise is more ignorant than the oppressive methods used by military dictators.

      To achieve that purpose, the president dressed up the press laws with his personal grudges and with strange examples from countries that Koreans had never even heard of. And public servants who wanted promotions and officials at the pseudo civic activist groups, merely looking for board positions in government-run and state propaganda agencies, joined the bandwagon, supporting the move to enact the law. The opposition party has nothing to say in its defense either. It simply cut a deal with the ruling party and supported the passage of the Newspaper Law, whose purpose is to strangle the voice of freedom that constitutes the lifeline of a democratic society.

      In 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled that certain clauses in the Newspaper Law, including its regulation of market dominance, were either unconstitutional or “did not conform” with the Constitution. The International Press Institute and other groups representing newspapers pointed out that the law severely damages the freedom of the press. But rather than showing signs of repentance following this reaction from around the world and within Korea, the administration dispatched government spokesmen stationed at Korean embassies overseas to use outdated lobbying tactics to pacify critics.

      The Newspaper Law is filled with restrictive clauses that cannot be rectified through just a few changes here and there. With the National Tax Service already scrutinizing the financial records of newspapers each year, the Newspaper Law made it mandatory for newspapers to report their management records to the Press Commission every year as well. The law is also filled with clauses that should not exist in a democratic society, such as using taxpayers’ money to support selected newspapers and using those funds to deliver those papers to households and offices. It must be abolished immediately and the Press Commission and the Newspaper Circulation Service, which simply created jobs for pro-government officials and wasted taxes, should be closed down right now. Any alternative legislation should simply regulate the registration process for newspapers.

      The Press Arbitration law, which was also passed along with the Newspaper Law, is full of regulations that deter newspapers from keeping the government in check, such as clauses that make it possible to demand corrections of articles that did not violate any regulations either through willful intent or negligence. Also in need of being scrapped are regulations that authorized the Fair Trade Commission to conduct midnight raids for the past five years on small newspaper distribution outlets, delivering only 1,000 or 2,000 copies each, slapping them with millions of won in fines.

      Justice must be done as quickly as possible.
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