[Editorial] Protect freedom of the press

Ruling party to unilaterally pass media bills, stifling criticism and denying right to know

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is pushing for a bill that would force the media to pay punitive damages for false reporting.

The party called a meeting of the parliamentary committee on culture, sports and tourism bill deliberation subcommittee on Tuesday and tabled a number of bills. These included a review of the press arbitration law and remedies for damage caused by press articles.

The main opposition party, the People Power Party, condemned the ruling party for unilaterally convening the subcommittee, without prior consultations. People Power Party lawmakers did not attend the meeting in protest.

The main purpose of the proposal is to multiply, up to five times, the level of damages that courts could award in cases where someone is harmed by a deliberately false report or in which gross negligence leads to a lie.

If a media outlet publishes a false report, it must take responsibility for it. Either way, those in power should not use false reporting as an excuse to scare the media out of critical reporting.

This appears to be the goal of the Democratic Party’s bill.

Punitive damages are usually awarded for serious accidents at work. It seems contrary to common sense to apply them to the realm of media information, which is supposed to serve the public interest by satisfying people’s right to know. One of the biggest problems is that such monetary penalties would most likely be used to suppress freedom of the press.

Sanctions would likely trigger a flood of litigation. Lawsuits by resentful groups against certain media may also increase.

The problem of fake news is currently covered by existing civil and criminal laws, which allow for damages and criminal penalties for libel and insult. Adding punitive damages would be excessive. Remedies for victims, such as corrections printed after a false report, are already available from the Press Arbitration Commission.

Additionally, most fake news comes from social media platforms, which the bill excludes. It targets the mainstream media.

If the ruling party is really concerned about the damage caused by fake news, it might first try to find a way to prevent politicians and officials from covering up their suspicions.

On numerous occasions, the presidential office, government officials and lawmakers have denied the allegations raised by the media, offering counter-arguments based on insufficient evidence and fake data.

For example, even though the state-assessed values ​​of apartments in Seoul have climbed more than 80% in the past four years, the presidential office said house prices have only increased by 17%. He also varnished on statistics on employment and income distribution.

The ruling party suffered a crushing defeat in the April 7 by-elections. Irritated by its double standards and failed real estate policies, voters have turned their backs on the current regime. And yet he did not reflect on his faults but blamed the press. He must stop trying to gag the critical media.

Another bill that would have an impact on the news media aims to revise a law on government advertising. It would introduce a “good media” system where people would be asked if they “liked” or “disliked” certain newspapers. The government would assess the influence of certain media based on their popularity and allocate its advertising budget accordingly.

Civic groups affiliated with the government would most likely be mobilized to vote. They would of course vote for the newspapers most palatable to their palates. We have to wonder if the party in power intends to tame the press through government advertising. This absurd idea must be abandoned.

The Democratic Party says the bills under discussion are not in their final form, but that it is expected to pass them almost as they are in a plenary session of the National Assembly on July 23 with its majority overwhelming.

But if he gets them through parliament, he will face criticism that he seeks to expand his regime through media control disguised as media reform.

Freedom of the press is an important pillar of democracy. A unilateral push for legislation that dulls criticism could bring it down.

The right way to fight fake news is through the media’s self-cleaning efforts and strict enforcement of existing laws.

By Korea Herald ([email protected])

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