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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Han

Seven Korean media organizations: “A bad law is a bad law even if it is amended. [...]"

Seven Korean media organizations: “A bad law is a bad law even if it is amended. Scrap the Press Arbitration Act.”

On August 31, South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party and opposition People Power Party have decided to postpone the plenary session on amendments to the Press Arbitration Act to September 27 and to set up a consultative body of eight members from the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the issue. The ruling and opposition parties have determined to set a “one-month truce” period to continue negotiations on the Act. However, it is uncertain whether a final agreement will be reached because of gaps in opinions between the Democratic Party, which says that “general frame must be maintained” and the People Power Party, which says that “the poison pill clause should be revoked.” According to the analysis from the ruling party, it said that “processing period has just been postponed for one month and the situation to submit the bill has not been changed.” Regarding this, seven media organizations including the Korean Association of Newspapers, the Journalist Association of Korea, and the Kwanhun Club called for scrapping the bill, saying, “The draft Press Arbitration Act, a tattered, bad law, should be scrapped and we should discuss it from the scratch.

On the afternoon of the same day, the Democratic Party Floor Leader Yun Ho-jung and the People Power Party Floor Leader Kim Ki-hyun met at the National Assembly with Speaker Park Byeong-seok as a mediator, and signed an agreement stating that “the Press Arbitration Act would be brought up for discussion at the plenary session on September 27.” Both the ruling and opposition parties are going to set up a consultative body consisting of two parliamentarians from each party and two experts from the media, legal community and other fields recommended by each party. Both parties said, “Negotiations will begin in early September.”

However, it is unclear whether the ruling and opposition parties will work out the bill through a final agreement. In response to a question of “whether the bill would be reconsidered from the scratch,” Floor Leader Yoon said, “Since this is an amendment for the plenary session, we cannot make an amendment that deviated from the scope of the existing bill. In response, Floor Leader Kim insisted that “the three provisions (punitive damages, right to block access, and presumption of willful misconduct and gross negligence) should be deleted unconditionally.

The seven media organizations said, “A bad law is nothing but a bad law no matter how it is amended if the essence of the law remains the same,” and continued, “It is appropriate to scrap the draft Press Arbitration Act, a tattered, bad law and discuss it from the scratch.” The media group said, “If no agreement is reached by September 27, the bill will be railroaded as it is,” and insisted, “The handling deadline should be abolished because it is not appropriate to fully discuss the extension of freedom of speech and the relief plan for victims.”

The People Power Party is aiming at “the withdrawal of the first priority” of the clause that orders punitive damages of up to five times to the media because it would discourage media activities. The Democratic Party, however, stands firm by saying that the clause must be retained as “a pillar of the proposed amendment, which includes the objective of substantial damage relief.” The Democratic Party also takes a stance on maintaining the basic framework of the clause on the right to block access to articles on Internet newspapers and portal sites. However, the opposition parties and social groups are opposed to it, because it could lead to prior censorship to monitor power and prevent critical reporting.

The People Power Party said that of the three clauses in question, the “presumption of willful misconduct or gross negligence” was agreed to be deleted in this negotiation. This clause stipulates that retaliatory or repetitive false or fabricated articles should be “presumed” rather than “proven” to be willful misconduct or gross negligence by the media, and it has been pointed out that this could lead to a spate of punitive lawsuits against the media. Regarding the insistence on a “deletion agreement” by the People Power Party, Han Jun-ho, the Democratic Party’s spokesman, said, “It should be discussed to the extent that it does not undermine the purpose of the bill.”

Since a letter from the OHCHR expressing concern about the Press Arbitration Act has been sent to the Korean Government, the ruling party and the Blue House, it may act as variables in future discussions. The Korean Government has faced an added burden with the task of officially stating its stance on the “controversy over the violation of freedom of expression” to the international community. However, hardline members of the Democratic Party have still opposed the amendment, claiming that the original intent of the bill has been undermined. Lawmaker Kim Yong-min said, “We want to make the bill better by filling lacking points instead of retracting,” and continued, “It is going to be a busy month.” Through a statement, the National Union of Media Workers urged, “The agreement between the two parties is only meant to postpone the expected clashes and steamrolling to a month later.” “Start building consensus in the ‘open debate,’ not in ‘backroom talks.’” Furthermore, since the news editing rights of portal sites (Newspaper Act), the control structure of public broadcasting (Broadcast Act), and the regulation of YouTube and personal media (Information and Communication Network Act) are discussed in the respecting standing committee, not in the consultative body, the clashes between the ruling and opposition parties in the standing committees may flare up again. Park Wan-ju, the Democratic Party’s policy committee chair commented, “There was a request that the bill on YouTube at the Science, Technology, Information, Broadcasting, and Telecommunications Committee be dealt with other bills altogether.” “I think we can achieve an overall balance only if we hold consultations in the regular session of the National Assembly and deal with the bills all at once.”


The Chosun ilbo dated on September 1st

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