South Korea: Parliament shelves controversial press law amid backlash

South Korea’s National Assembly, in which the ruling Democratic Party holds a majority, has backed down on the amendment bill of the Press Arbitration Act, after press freedom groups, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK), expressed concern and demanded revisions. The IFJ welcomes the decision and urges the South Korean authorities to respect freedom of the press and expression.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at the National Assembly in Seoul on October 28, 2020. Credit: AFP/ JEON HEON-KYUN

On September 29, Democratic Party lawmakers agreed to shelve the amendment bill of the Act on Press Arbitration and Remedies for Damage Caused by Press Reports and to work with opposition lawmakers to explore other options of amending the existing law. Previously, the ruling party lawmakers were reported to have planned to put the contentious bill to a vote at the National Assembly on September 27 or that week.  

The bill would have seen media organisations and individual journalists found guilty of publishing a “false or manipulated” report face penalties “up to five times the damages” if such reporting was found to have “caused property damage, the infringement of personality right or any other emotional distress,” be it internationally or unintentionally. 

The IFJ issued a statement and wrote to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to express its concerns over the proposed legislation, which would limit freedom of expression and could be used as a retaliatory tool by political or business leaders against media outlets running critical reports of them.  

The IFJ said such legislation would have adverse effects on democracy in South Korea, risking self-censorship in the media industry and depriving news organisations of their ability to monitor and criticise those in power. 

The IFJ said, “The IFJ welcomes the decision made by the South Korean government to mothball the bill, and it calls for a broader discussion between the authorities and journalists, scholars and legal experts so as to improve the media environment and safeguard press freedom in South 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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