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[Editorial] Editorial Rights Upheld

Posted February. 11, 2006 06:33,   


The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that “journalistic expression of opinions or criticism cannot be subjected to malicious reporting law suits.” This means that the nation’s supreme court recognizes the right of free speech and the function of criticism in a wider term. The court is saying that the importance of defending people from hurtful words cannot outweigh the importance of their right to free speech.

The Government Information Agency filed a lawsuit against Dong-A Ilbo, claiming that the paper published malicious reports and editorials (July 4 editorial: “GIA Director’s Sophistry”) criticizing the 2001 tax audit conducted against the media by the Kim Dae-jung administration. This argument was recognized by judges in the first and second courts. But the Supreme Court overturned the original judgments by stating that malicious reporting suits only apply to “reports” and not editorials and media opinion pieces.

This judgment is a warning to the current press policies of the Roh administration. The Roh administration has constantly harassed the press with lawsuits, even against their editorials and columns, and has justified as action “confronting wrongful reporting.” The administration went further by encouraging civil and criminal litigation against the press and creating policies that aid these kinds of litigation efforts. There were 146 cases of mediation requests filed by government entities in last year alone.

Unsatisfied, the Roh administration further threatened free speech by legislating against Korea’s three best-selling newspapers, restricting their market share to 60 percent by law, as well as passing a press damage relief law. Using these legal devices, this administration is strengthening its powers to further infringe upon the content of the press.

The press damage relief law passed last July last has also been submitted to the Supreme Court for a constitutionality review.

The function of press is to mold public opinion through exposing the public to various ideas. These expressions may differ from country to country, but they clearly have legal precedent that says, “An opinion about a public issue must be protected even if it is unreasonable”.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 decision that said. “There is no such thing as a wrong opinion,” recognizes the privilege of journalistic criticism.

Rather than oppressing its critics, The Roh administration should think hard about whether its problem is its own stubbornness, not that of journalists. I hope the Supreme Court’s decision gives the administration food for thought.