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“Libel against Cheong Wa Dae Is Hard to Establish”

Posted September. 07, 2007 08:14,   


Regarding the announcement by Cheong Wa Dae on September 7 that it will file legal action against Grand National Party presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak on charges of libel, legal practitioners and scholars are raising questions over whether the claim of libel makes sense.

Many in legal circles contend that the litigation by Cheong Wa Dae is inappropriate because the comments made by presidential candidate Lee cannot be seen as “a distribution of false facts” considering the overall intent of his words, and because the conditions are complex for the acknowledgement of libel against a public institution or person.

Cheong Wa Dae found fault in Lee’s words at a meeting of the Grand National Party’s Supreme Council on September 3 after raising suspicions on political operations by government agencies such as the National Intelligence Service and National Tax Service, saying, “The central stream of power is giving coercive orders.”

First of all, many in the legal circle argue that such a comment by Lee cannot be identified as a case of distribution of false facts. This is because that the National Intelligence Service and National Tax Service inquired into the possessions of Lee is likely to be regarded as inappropriate intervention by public power.

Kyungpook National University Professor Shin Pyeong, a judge-turned-professor, says, “There seems to be enough reason for candidate Lee to accept [an examination by the National Intelligence Service and National Tax Service] as improper political attacks from the authority. With a certain level of probability, we can say that there is good reason to believe that it is true.”

Some also point out that it is improper for Cheong Wa Dae, the symbol of public power, to be an accuser of libel. Unlike a private person who needs to be actively delivered from the damages of libel, Cheong Wa Dae is the highest authority that can defend itself on its own. Moreover the tendency of recent Supreme Court cases show that “the bigger the social influence of a public body, the less suspicion-raising actions against are blocked under the cover of the protection of reputations.” This means that the checks and balances on an institution of authority will benefit the formation of public discussions, which are the main function of democracy.

“There is less benefit of law protecting public persons against libel than private persons,” says a lawyer who was formerly a well-established prosecutor. “Because both the National Intelligence Service and National Tax Service are agencies directed by the president, the latter should be legally responsible for the agencies under the presidential system.”

What triggers controversy in particular in this case is what Lee meant by ‘the central stream of power.’ The person being libeled has to be either mentioned in detail or at least be specified partially.

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