The Democratic Party of Korea is pushing for a bill to raise the compensation for damages caused by fake or false news that are intentional or caused by serious negligence by a news provider to a maximum five times the damages and require responsible news outlets to publish corrections on the front page of their newspapers, websites or at the very beginning of news broadcasting programs. Thirteen revision ideas for the Act on Press Arbitration and Remedies, etc. for Damage Caused by Press Reports were proposed at a Tuesday meeting of the bill deliberation subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee and the final revision bill based on the ideas was put forward.
Punitive compensation for damages has been pointed as unconstitutional excessive legislation, which undermines media companies’ function of criticism. While compensation for damages caused by fake news is claimed as the reason for the bill, but punishment and compensation for defamation and contempt are specified under the Criminal Act and the Civil Act. Even though punitive compensation itself should be banned, the new bill increases the maximum compensation amount from three times the damages caused to five times.
Punitive compensation is likely to be used as a tool to silence media critical to those in power. While the ruling party explains that compensation is limited to the cases that there was an intention to harm the victim in the case of those in political service and elected public officials, but it is not enough. The intention to harm the victim has a lot of room for argument. It will eventually lead to a number of lawsuits against media companies that don’t share the same views as those in power, limiting reports by not only such companies but also others.
If passed a sit is, the clause that media companies should publish corrections on the front page of their newspapers, websites, or at the very beginning of news broadcasting programs will be an unjust law that is unprecedented in any country. The ruling party originally considered a bill for newspapers to publish corrections on the same page as the original article taking up more than half of the space the original article was published on. Unilaterally forcing the size of corrections is already a serious violation of news outlets’ editing autonomy and the requirement to publish on the first page leaves me speechless.
In addition, a revision bill for the Act on Implementation of Advertisements by Government Agencies and Public Corporations to execute government advertisements using a media voucher system has been proposed to the Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee. In practice, it will mean that the impact of newspapers will be evaluated based on popular vote to execute government advertisements. The bill should be immediately removed as vote results may vary depending on political orientation and the media market can be disturbed.
Even though the ruling party says the revision bill for the Act on Press Arbitration has not been finalized yet, it is likely to try to quickly pass the bill at a regular session of the National Assembly on July 23. The bill also can be seen as a political attempt for the upcoming presidential election. The right way to address the fake news issue is by media companies’ efforts to reform themselves and the strict application of the existing laws related to media.