[EDITORIALS]Press Policies Under Global ScrutinyReporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), an international press freedom watchdog group based in Paris, sent a letter Tuesday to Culture and Tourism Minister Kim Han-gill, protesting the South Korean government's media tax probe. In the letter, the group warned, "Such a tax probe could represent a real threat to the pluralism of information on the eve of the presidential election slated next year." It went on to condemn "all pressures on the press." The letter took note that the tax probe was concentrated on media groups critical of the current government, and added, "It does not bode well for the 'press reforms' announced recently by President Kim Dae-jung."
Reporters Without Borders is an international organ to protect the rights of news gatherers. Its major objective is to protect reporters from persecution. In this respect, the group is different from the World Association of Newspapers or the International Press Institute, whose members are the executives, the publishers and the editors of news companies.
Seoul must pay attention to the fact that the reporters' group, not the executives' or editors' organizations, voiced concern over the South Korean government's tax investigations. Although the government claims that it is a routine probe without any unstated intentions, foreign reporters, not the managers of the foreign media, say that they find it hard to swallow the Korean government's explanations.
They expressed concern that by the use of a legal means in form ?the tax probe ?the government may induce the news media to sing in harmony with the government, thereby harming the pluralism of the press.
We reiterate that we believe news companies should not be exempt from tax probes and that they should operate their businesses like any other companies, including paying taxes according to law. However, as the group pointed out in its protest letter, a tax probe is not routine when tax authorities are looking into the books for several months using 400 investigators. If their aim is so-called "press reform," it should be voluntary, not coerced. The international community is watching Korea's media situation closely.