[EDITORIALS]The Intent Is to Gag the Press

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[EDITORIALS]The Intent Is to Gag the Press

It is regrettable that the Fair Trade Commission is pressing ahead unreasonably with its plan to resurrect regulations on newspaper companies despite numerous problems and opposition. On Wednesday, an economic subcommittee of the Regulatory Reform Committee had another heated debate, but failed to reach a conclusion. The committee decided to have another discussion next Wednesday and put the issue on the agenda of the Friday plenary meeting. Committee members from the private sector reportedly pointed out problems with the regulations to other members from the government, who predominate on the board, and the Fair Trade Commission. Nevertheless, the FTC is trying to move ahead without presenting explanations and data for the objections which caused the reform committee to reject the proposal the first time it was offered.

The revised documents released by the commission do not make sense. The commission asserts that regulations on newspaper companies must be revived because unfair business practices have increased. However, commission document show that unwanted free delivery of newspapers decreased from 3,290 cases in 1999 to 1,427 in 2000. Even if other unfair business practices ?giving away free gifts and free papers ?are included, the number decreased from 3,584 to 1,932 in the same period. Voluntary regulations by the newspaper industry have also been strengthened since last November. If the government keeps its hands off, the situation will improve. Despite opposition from newspapers and advertisers' associations, the government seems to be pushing hard for the revived regulations. The FTC says that newspaper companies ring up high advertising revenues by wielding influence over advertisers. This is a far cry from reality. The advertising market is so competitive that it is a consumers' market where advertisers occupy the high ground. The commission even sets forth the argument that newspapers have added more pages to accommodate advertisements, which leads to a "waste of resources" and "environmental pollution."

Yet when some of the Regulatory Reform Committee members commented that regulation is possible with the current laws and asked the commission why it intends to revive a system it repealed two years ago, the commission claimed that government controls are necessary for voluntary regulation.

The commission has mobilized many questionable civic groups whose identities are not clear to press ahead. The intention to gag newspapers is clear; the National Tax Service has slapped taxes on newspaper companies and the Fair Trade Commission has launched investigations into unfair business transactions and now it is set to implement new regulations. The press is being persecuted in the name of self-regulation.

Whatever the outcome of Friday's plenary meeting, however, the government's idea has no legitimacy or justification. The intended regulations have been shown to be unreasonable and sinister in purpose.

Whether free papers account for 10 percent or 20 percent of the market is not important. What is important is the government move to gag the press. The Fair Trade Commission, which should be neutral, is in the lead. In particular, it is truly unfortunate that the Fair Trade Act, which should be precise and strict, is applied at the administration's whim. This issue will remain a burden on the Fair Trade Commission for a long time to come. We urge the Fair Trade Commission to return to the correct path even at this late date.
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