UN's Scathing Letter over Press Gag Bill Revealed

  • By Lee Yong-soo

    September 02, 2021 13:33

    The Office for the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights has blasted the ruling Minjoo Party's media reform bill as "utterly disproportionate" and limiting "a wide range of expression."

    The complaint came in a letter to the government that the ruling party tried to suppress until it became headline news on Wednesday.

    The letter was made available on Wednesday. It was sent as long ago as Aug. 27 by Irene Khan, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression.

    Khan warned that even if the Korean government's intention is to "establish public confidence in the press," the bill "may just do the opposite if adopted without further changes."

    Khan voiced concerns that the media gag bill, which is ostensibly aimed at curbing "fake news," could "limit a wide range of expression that is essential to a democratic society" just as "access to information and the free flow of ideas will be particularly critical ahead of, and during the presidential election of March 2022."

    "The punitive damages set forth [in the bill] appear to be utterly disproportionate. I am seriously concerned the excessive punitive damages may result in self-censorship by the media and stifle important debates on matters of public interest," she adds.

    Khan reminded Korea of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states the "value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high in the circumstances of public debate in a democratic society."

    "The prohibition of false information is not in itself a legitimate aim to restrict freedom of expression," she stressed. "In effect, people have the right to express ill-founded opinions and statements or indulge in parody or satire if they so wish."

    Earlier the government claimed it had passed the letter to the MP because the bill was subject to deliberations in the National Assembly but declined to say what was in it.

    The party leadership claimed it had passed the letter on to the party caucus, which would share it with all members, but that never happened. One MP lawmaker said, "I'm sure we will eventually get to see the statement."

    But in a last-minute U-turn on Tuesday, the MP agreed with the opposition Liberty Korea Party, which had threatened to filibuster it as long as possible, to kick the bill into the long grass pending "further deliberations."

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