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[Opinion] Speech Law of Korea and the U.S.

Posted October. 24, 2004 23:32,   


Koreans are fond of laws. Of all laws, free speech laws seem to be their favorite. The powers that be in the 1980s launched various reform policies in the name of social purification. Speech-related laws were most influenced during this process. Standard speech laws that time specified detailed requirements that publishers and press agencies had to follow. There were even laws regarding press machines. In the past, only one local newspaper per province was allowed, and news agencies were combined into one. Broadcasting laws were revised and the media adopted a public broadcasting system. These laws, however, underwent seismic changes after the special statement of June 29, which included the abolishment of the Speech Standard Law. This time, freedom of publication has expanded, opening an era of growth and prosperity for free speech.

Every time before, when Korea decided on new laws, it had tested and reviewed various kinds of foreign laws including: the Public Broadcasting Law of the U.K., the newspaper law of Sachsen State, Germany, the newspaper supporting law of sweden, the newspaper delivery system of France, and the communication law of the U.S.. The former Korean government under President Kim Dae-jung even adopted a Fair Trade Law and a tax law.

Democracy activists are not excluded from such fondness for laws. The current Korean government and ruling party, after two years of pondering, has finally decided to make new laws to reform the speech law. Their goal is same as always: to expand freedom of speech and protect civil rights. The government has also demonstrated its strong will to eliminate negative customs in the speech industry. By the way, now that they have an enormous amount of things to correct, they need to pay attention to every detail so that a revised law would be relevant to the order of the market, the amount of market advertisement, and even editing criteria. Thinking of the first newspaper law in 1907, it is almost impossible to tell how many stories have been changed or replaced. Despite all such efforts, however, I have never heard of Korea’s free speech laws being used as exemplary cases to other nations. I have never met any theorist who could clearly explain what theories have been adopted as the basis for the nation’s speech philosophy.

I was surprised to know that the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution consists of only 45 words. But what amazed me more is the fact that the U.S.’s first amendment requires Congress not to make laws abridging the freedom of speech. While the nation’s presidents have been replaced about fifty times, the first amendment, the only free speech law in the U.S. has not been touched once. But still, the freedom of speech in the U.S. is most respected in the world.

Lee Jae-kyoung, guest editorial writer, Professor of Speech Studies at Ewha Woman’s University, jklee@ewha.ac.kr