Korean Press Reform "Must Not Be Derailed" By Tax Troubles of Newspaper Owners Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed its full support to Korean journalists who are campaigning for urgent reform of the country's media landscape and stressed that the movement for reform - led by journalists' groups and a coalition of civic organisations - should not be derailed by controversial prosecutions over tax offences, which have led to the arrest of some newspaper owners.

"Media owners and their supporters abroad do press freedom a disservice by trying to diminish the public debate over the role of the press in Korea, " said Christopher Warren, President of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' groups, in a statement on Tuesday to Kim Young-mo, the President of the Journalists' Association of Korea.

"The IFJ strongly supports the campaign of Korean journalists and media workers to bring about change in journalism in Korea," he said. "In particular, it is time to support professionalism at all levels, to grant editorial independence to journalists and to hold powerful newspaper groups accountable for their actions over the years."

Warren refuted suggestions made by international media organisations representing employers' groups that the current pressure for media reform was politically-motivated by the Government of Kim Dae Jung. "The reform movement has been initiated by journalists and civic groups," he said. "Employers would like to derail the reform process, but there is a groundswell of public disquiet in Korea that cannot be ignored."

The IFJ congratulated the Journalists Association of Korea on its continuing campaign and urged them not to be blown off course by media employers who are angry over court actions being brought against company executives after a recent official tax audit of newspapers. On Friday prosecutors announced they would seek additional charges against three newspaper chiefs who have been arrested and detained.

Officials at the Seoul District Public Prosecutor's Office said they were considering adding new criminal charges to the standing charges against the three media owners of tax evasion and embezzlement. The three are Bang Sang-hoon, president of the Chosun Ilbo; Kim Byung-kwan, former honorary chairman of the Dong-a Ilbo; and Cho Hee-jun, ex-chairman of the Kukmin Daily. Criminal proceedings began on June 29, when the National Tax Service accused six media firms and 12 of their owners, founding family members, and executives, of tax fraud.