THE International Federation of Journalists, which will hold its world congress in Seoul from June 11-16th, today called on Korean press owners to support calls for media reform and rejected claims that an investigation into the tax affairs of major newspapers was an attempt to muzzle the critical voice of the independent press.
"Claims by publishers and their supporters that investigations of their fiscal arrangements threaten press freedom are untenable and exaggerated," said Aidan White, the General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group. "The journalists organisations of Korea reject this view which appears to be an attempt by vested interests in the press to divert attention from the public debate about the need for media reform."
The IFJ's affiliates in Korea, the Journalists Association of Korea and the Korean Federation of Press Unions, are supporting a civil society movement calling for reform of the media, the People Coalition for Media Reform. The Coalition has criticised a lack of transparency in the press and supports a tax audit of newspapers.
"Far from threatening press freedom, the movement for reform aims to underpin the press independence upon which democracy depends," said Aidan White. "The time is right for a wide-ranging public debate about the role of media and for more openness about the activities of media. It should be supported by all media owners."
In Korea three major newspapers - Chosun Ilbo, JoonAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo - dominate the market. The owners of the papers have much at stake in any review of their financial activities. The papers have attacked the Peoples Coalition for Media Reform suggesting it is giving support to governmental pressure on the press.
"This is a scurrilous distortion of the truth," says the IFJ, "For years groups fighting for democracy in Korea have placed press freedom at the heart of the reform agenda and the journalists of Korea are sensitive to any attempts from the government or elsewhere to restrict freedom of expression."
The 24th IFJ Congress, Journalism in the Information Age, will open in Seoul on June 11th. The crisis for press freedom around the world will be on the agenda, including the situation in Korea. "We will never give encouragement to the enemies of press freedom," said Aidan White, "but nor will we ignore the fact that some media employers fail in their duty to foster professional conditions that will sustain press freedom and democracy."