A revision bill for the Act on Press Arbitration forcibly pursued by the ruling party will be proposed at a regular session of the National Assembly on Wednesday. As the bill contains many poisonous clauses, such as the punitive maximum compensation of five times, to control the media, it is criticized as the ‘press gag act’ or ‘press punishment act.’ While the revision bill is so concerning that a member of the Justice Party even said that he feels like he is standing on the brink to stop the retrogression of democracy, the Democratic Party of Korea is still pushing the bill.
The ruling party’s forceful legislation is beyond common sense and heading close to madness. While the party put forward press reform and the eradication of fake news as the reasons for the bill, it is clear to everyone that the party has the intention to control the media critical of the current administration. Targeting the mainstream media, rather than YouTube full of fake news, is the evidence. Pro-Moon Jae-in hardliners who control the views of the party are behind the bill. Prominent presidential candidates of the ruling party are taking a vague stance, trying not to upset the pro-Moon figures who are putting pressure on the candidates by sending a series of text messages. The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said that it will not be involved as it is a matter of the legislative body but it is basically providing silent support.
The revision bill is what South Koreans describe with a saying, “a novice shaman kills a person.” The Korean Bar Association said that the bill can have a “deadly effect of a good intention” threatening the foundation of democracy. “The format of assuming willfulness and gross negligence for punitive compensation by listing their examples and reasons is rare to find in other acts in place,” Minbyun also said. “It can gravely damage the freedom of the press.” The organization urged the suspension of the legislation at an unprecedented speed.
The U.S. Congress is planning to introduce the Journalist Protection Act, which makes it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. South Korea, however, is going backward. The issue of the Act on Press Arbitration is beyond a simple matter of whether the level of “punishment” is appropriate for ‘false reporting.’ It is directly related to the freedom of the media and the essence of democracy.
The ruling party should regain its composure. The members of the party should make a decision whether they would be recorded in history as the main players who set back the freedom of the press. Before joining a regular session of the National Assembly today, they should reflect on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which contributed to the development of democracy. “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”