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[Opinion] Ill-advised Newspaper Act and Media Bills

Posted February. 04, 2009 08:54,   


The Act on Freedom of Newspapers and Guarantee of their Functions, a bad law legislated by the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, was passed by the National Assembly on Jan. 1, 2005. The act was the first of four major bills the Roh administration railroaded through parliament without reservation, with the others being the revised National Security Law, the Private Educational Institute Act, and the Act on Past History.

The then opposition Grand National Party did not aggressively block the vote on the bill on the newspaper act. It instead agreed with the then ruling Uri Party to vote on the bill in return for delaying deliberation of the history act. The newspaper act had several clauses ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court a year and a half later, but was effectively legislated after the GNP made a concession. Nine GNP lawmakers from the party even voted for the act. It has been almost three years since several clauses of the act were ruled unconstitutional. The main opposition Democratic Party, which replaced the now-defunct Uri, as well as the GNP remain nonchalant about revising the act.

This time, the rival parties are locking horns over a plan to allow media companies to run both newspapers and broadcasters. The deliberation of media reform bills will likely emerge as the most controversial issue in this month’s parliamentary extra session. Even some lawmakers at the GNP, which has openly pledged to pass the media bills, reportedly have differing views. Former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye hinted at her negative view on speedy deliberation of bills, saying in a luncheon meeting with the president Sunday, “There exists a vast gap between views of the government, opposition parties and the public.” What she calls “controversial bills” include those on media reform. News organizations that oppose the newspaper act have welcomed Park’s comments. Since her words will apparently affect the views of the pro-Park faction in the GNP, some doubt if the media bills will be approved.

Park was chairwoman when the newspaper act was approved. As head of the party at that time, she must be held accountable for acquiescing to the act’s legislation that proved unconstitutional. If Park continues to be negative about the bills, she will again end up supporting the Democratic Party, which seeks to maintain its privileged connection to broadcast media secured under the previous administration. The media bills include stipulations designed to correct unconstitutional elements in the act, and aim to end the anachronistic and closed monopoly of terrestrial TV networks and their reckless expansion. Park must make a wise judgment to ensure national interests.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)