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High Court: Editorials Not Malicious

Posted February. 11, 2006 06:33,   


The Supreme Court ruled that journalistic opinions or criticism cannot be considered malicious reporting, and that they are exempt from being subjected to malicious reporting lawsuits.

Through this ruling, the Supreme Court suggested detailed standards of differentiating an “actual report” from “expression of opinion or criticism” for the first time.

This judgment will set a precedent for indiscriminate lawsuits filed by government entities against the press and reaffirms the value of free speech.

The Supreme Court Division 2 (presiding supreme judge Kim Yong-dam) sent back to the Seoul High Court a case filed by Government Information Agency (GIA) against Dong-A Ilbo. The GIA had demanded through the lawsuit that Dong-A Ilbo print a counter-argument to its editorial printed on the same day titled: “GIA Chief Is Statement Addict.” The Supreme Court overturned the original decision that had ordered the printing of the counterargument.

The court ruled that “Dong-A Ilbo’s articles on the Government Information Agency’s frequent statements merely reflect their wishes on how the government’s official statements are composed. They are not assertions based on fact. Therefore, as the Publication Act (Press Arbitration Law as of last July) only allows refutations of articles based on fact, the original ruling citing the Government Information Agency’s right to request a refutation erred.”

It is expected that the Seoul High Court will reexamine this case and, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, judge that the Government Information Agency’s petition itself is legally incorrect.

Dong-A Ilbo had criticized the agency in July 2001, through articles and editorials, that the head of the agency had forgotten his original duties and is over-issuing official government statements, and that the reason for the agency’s tax investigation may not be innocent. The Government Information Agency then filed a petition for a refutation of Dong-A Ilbo articles citing that “[the Agency] suffered due to the biased and distorted reports.”

Ji-Seong Jeon verso@donga.com