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[EDITORIALS]The Bid to Shackle Newspapers

Apr 15,2001
Newspaper regulations, which are fraught with problems, have been resurrected after two and a half years. The regulation proposal that passed the Regulatory Reform Committee Friday contains more forcible and comprehensive details than before. It is true that some poisonous articles have been watered down or eliminated from the draft submitted by the Fair Trade Commission. However, it is obvious that it is another case of enacting a bad law, judging from the contents, the form and the government's intentions, which were revealed in the process of pressing ahead with the legislation.

The government's move to "tame the media" is appalling. This effort turns a blind eye to the market economy, the principle of deregulation, and infringes on press freedom.

The regulations amount to a forcible intervention on media autonomy, although the newspaper association's regulations and correction measures are supposed to take precedence. The standards of autonomy and intervention in the new measure are extremely vague. In addition, with hidden poisonous articles, if the FTC chooses, it may intervene in newspaper management. An article stipulates that, "The FTC shall intervene if the newspaper industry's autonomous regulations are not enforced."

Another article specifies: "If the newspapers in the status of monopoly and oligopoly maintain or change newspaper prices and advertisement fees to higher prices than justified cost prices, they may be controlled." Newspapers are intellectual properties, and quality varies a great deal. The idea of government price evaluations because they all belong to the "newspaper" category is no different from imposing identical prices on paintings that are of the same size. In addition, given the newspaper market's uniqueness, the standards for defining "businesses of monopoly and oligopoly" are not exact. The law defines a business with more than 50 percent of the market or three businesses with a combined market share of more than 75 percent as "market dominating businesses," and the government is allowed to intervene. In case of the newspaper market, however, the concept of "a market dominator" is unclear, and it is not clear how to make a fair judgment when not all newspapers are members of the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

When the standards are unclear, room for government intervention grows. The government is likely to exert influence over the joint sales of newspapers, which is strongly opposed by the newspaper industry, through vague regulations on transactions between newspaper companies and delivery posts. Also the inclusion of the article, "For the cases not included in the regulations, sanctions may be imposed, according to the Fair Trade Act and the enforcement ordinance," in the supplementary provision smacks of the government's will to intervene in newspapers' overall management.

As pointed out several times, we are against the regulations because it is abundantly clear that the goal is the government's intervention in the media. It is a dangerous idea to gag the press with the creation of an unnecessary law because the government is displeased with the media's sound criticism.

If the resurrection of the newspaper regulations does not have political objectives, the FTC should allow newspapers to regulate themselves with autonomous rules created by the newspaper association. If the government intervenes despite newspapers' autonomous reform and the practice of self-regulation, a grave situation will arise between the government and the media.



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