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[Editorial] Full-scale Oppression of Critical Voices in the Media

[Editorial] Full-scale Oppression of Critical Voices in the Media

Posted October. 15, 2004 23:18,   


The Uri Party has announced a revised bill for the Law on Periodical Publications, which puts a cap on market shares for newspapers. It ostensibly guarantees the function of newspapers, but the substance of the amendment boils down to an oppression of the freedom of speech and a violation of the constitutional rights of the people. It’s enough to raise the suspicion that the ruling party is trying to stifle the voices of major newspapers critical to the current administration by drawing on the restrictions put in place by past authoritarian regimes.

First, the revised bill leaves ample room for violation of the Constitution. The clause that designates a single newspaper company with over 30 percent of the market share or any three companies with over 60 percent of the market share as “monopolies” to be restrained deprives readers of their right to the newspaper of their choice. Since this clause will enable the government to arbitrarily prohibit readers’ access to the newspaper read by the majority of the population, it really amounts to a repression of the people’s right to know. The Constitutional Court has decreed that the freedom of speech and publication is “one of the most important basic rights for citizens of democratic nations, because it guarantees their right to freely express and disseminate their ideas and opinions.” The bill needs to be investigated for possible violation of basic rights.

Second, the revised bill goes against the principles of market economy. Requiring newspapers to annually report their distribution and advertising fees to the Minister of Culture & Tourism means that the government will keep track of and restrain the operations of each newspaper company. It’s a dangerous clause formerly introduced by the Fifth Republic in 1980 then removed in 1987. Together with the foundation of a newspaper development fund (doled out according to the administration’s whims), support for distribution specialists (which favors minority newspapers), and the establishment of an agency for the “advancement of Korean media” (which is sure to include the participation of pro-government civic groups), it smacks of the administration’s intention to back “pro-Roh” newspapers. Government intervention in the exchange market for free ideas clearly violates the principles of market economy.

Third, the bill infringes on the right to edit, which forms the core of the freedom of speech. While apparently leaving it up to the newspaper companies’ discretion to establish editorial committees and legal guidelines for editing, the bill permits the involvement of the government in fact—a situation that has no precedent even in other countries. In particular, the new stipulations regarding social responsibility, stating that newspapers “must not instigate social conflict,” are likely to be abused in enabling arbitrary control over what gets reported and what doesn’t.

Above all, we cannot but be wary of the administration’s political agenda in seeking to introduce a new law regarding periodical publications. The Fair Trade Act states that a business must command over 75 percent of the market share in order to be regarded as a monopoly, but the revised bill lowers this figure for the newspaper market as well as providing for a massive development fund controlled by the government. All of this points to the fact that the government is aiming to displace the major forces in the newspaper industry. In a free democracy, the media exists to keep a check on the government. These days, with the broadcasting industry receiving censure for becoming the “heralds of the administration,” it is not an exaggeration to say that only a handful of newspapers stand against the government’s abuse of power.

History shows us that an administration that seeks to silence criticism and take over the media through unconstitutional, anti-market economy laws regarding newspapers can never succeed. It’s a shame that a party known as “a democratic force for reform which occupies the majority in the National Assembly for the first time in history” has come up with such a decidedly un-democratic bill. Can it really be that difficult for an administration to listen to voices of criticism in the media and achieve a government of “mutual prosperity”?