South Korea: Concerns over media law amendment

South Korea’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee of the National Assembly have introduced amendments to the Press Arbitration Act, that include additional punitive damages for media reports. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK) call for the repeal of the bill due to the way in which it represses freedom of expression and urge the National Assembly to vote no on the bill in the plenary session on August 25.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in gives a speech during the inauguration of the annual Economic Forum in Barcelona on June 16, 2021. Credit: LLUIS GENE / AFP

On July 27, the Democratic Party of Korea held a subcommittee meeting of the National Assembly where the Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee, led by ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Do Jong-hwan, passed a revised bill.

The amendments to the Press Arbitration Act detail that media personnel and media outlets would not be able to issue corrections for dissemination of false information, but would rather be liable to pay punitive damages to the complainant of up to five time higher than the acutal damages.

The legislation around determining intention is ambiguous and thus there comes with the risk of overregulation which would ultimately infringe on the freedom of the press.

Representative Lee Dal-gon, of the main opposition party, said that the revision is a crude reconstruction of the original legislation as it allows plaintiffs to sue for five times the actual damages, including psychological grief.

A coalition of seven media organisations, including JAK, are calling for the retraction of the bill, claiming it is a “malicious piece of legislation meant to gag the press.” The coalition is arguing that punitive damages can be claimed for false or deceptive reports but the definition of ‘false’ is vague and thus regulation of the law will be difficult and subjective.

The JAK said: The biggest problem is that the bill regards the media as the source of ‘fake news’. The ruling DP (Democratic Party) is defining the media as an enemy of the general public, instigating hatred of the media and trying to undermine its credibility.”

The IFJ said: “This bill relies on a fundamental misunderstanding offake news. Allowing media outlets and journalists to publish retractions is a critical part of having a free, honest and self-regulating press. By creating undue penalties for incorrect reporting, this bill threatens to create a climate of fear among Korean journalists. Subjective laws are a poor form of regulation and we encourage Korean lawmakers to work with JAK and the coalition of media organisations to create laws that promote freedom of the press and freedom of information to benefit the people of Korea.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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