IPI Slams Planned Changes to Korean Media Law

August 19, 2021 12:59

The International Press Institute on Tuesday expressed serious concerns that revisions to the media law that the ruling Minjoo Party is pushing will discourage critical reporting.

The proposed bill would allow people to sue the media for punitive damages caused by “fake news.”

The IPI warned that “the bill could be used to silence critical reporting of those in power, particularly ahead of the presidential election next March, thus endangering press freedom in [Korea].”

“At a time when authoritarian governments are increasingly adopting so-called ‘fake news’ laws to stifle criticism, it is disappointing to see a democratic country like [Korea] follow this negative trend,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen was quoted as saying.

Other domestic and overseas organizations are also opposing the bill, from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the Korean Society for Journalism & Communication Studies to the Korean Bar Association.

They say concepts like intention and gross negligence in the draft which are used to determine whether the act is punishable or not are far too vaguely defined and can be interpreted arbitrarily.

This could lead to news outlets refraining from publishing critical reporting to minimize the threat of being sued, and such self-censorship would greatly reduce freedom of the press, they add.

The bill also stipulates that the onus of proof that any false reports are unintentional is on the media outlets, and compensation for complainants may be up to five times higher than the actual amount of possible damage.

However, the MP says the bill is needed to combat fake news and already railroaded the bill it through the Culture, Sports and Tourism committee on Wednesday as the main opposition People Power Party boycotted the session in protest.

The MP now plans to force it through a plenary session of the National Assembly next week.

MP lawmaker Do Jong-hwan, who heads the committee, had appointed Kim Eui-kyum of the Open Democratic Party as a committee member for agenda coordination. The post is reserved for the opposition, but the OPD is a de-facto proxy party for the MP.

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