[EDITORIALS]Now It's Up to the Court to Do JusticeIn Korea and overseas, the public is eyeing the unprecedented detention of the owners of three newspapers, the Chosun Ilbo, the Dong-a Ilbo and the Kukmin Ilbo. Now the ball has been tossed to the court by the National Tax Service and the prosecutors. There is a gap between law and practice; while some speak out for fair taxation, others suspect an attempt to gag the press. We will pay close attention to how the court will apply such concerns in its rulings.
Unlawful actions can never be justified, and media companies are no exception. Because the press is responsible for criticism and the public interest in promoting social justice, some may demand that newspapers be managed more transparently. Yet the court should clearly determine whether the newspapers were wrongly charged with tax evasion and embezzlement by applying the standards of other businesses to the sales and advertising practices of newspapers, despite the special nature of the press. The court should remember that imposing enormous fines, threatening the existence of media companies, could minimize the critical function of the press.
From the beginning of the tax probes, many suspected an attempt to gag the press. After the president mentioned press reform at his New Year's press conference, the National Tax Service and the Fair Trade Commission hurried to launch investigations. The newspaper companies were forced to pay enormous fines and back taxes for accepted business practices such as circulating free promotional copies. The government levied 55.6 billion won ($43 million) in back taxes, the highest amount ever for a single industry, against 23 media companies.
Members of the ruling party declared war on the press, calling it "organized violence," and "the last dictatorial power." They demanded that the owners of tax-dodging newspapers be reported to prosecutors even before the outcome of the tax probe was available. Although there was no danger of newspaper owners fleeing or destroying evidence, they were detained pending trial. It is suspicious that the terms of the detention warrants were not made public even after they were issued. The prosecutors argued that the exact charges should not be made public before trial, but it had announced them in the name of the people's right to know. We wonder, too, why the outcome of the probes was aired in real time on TV.
The court is responsible for discriminating between right and wrong in this press oppression. We expect the court to make wise decisions.