[EDITORIALS]Web campaigns? Why not?

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[EDITORIALS]Web campaigns? Why not?

Partly reflecting the degree of progress the Internet is making as a part of our daily life, the Seoul Election Commission has stirred up a controversy by quashing plans by a presidential candidate to join a debate on OhmyNews, an online news site.

The commission said the Internet site is not a registered journalism outlet, and the appearance of a candidate there amounts to premature campaigning. Despite OhmyNews' claim, a claim made by other Web sites as well, that they are news media, the commission said they are actually telecommunications businesses. Unless the law is amended to designate them as media ?or unless the election laws are amended ?such election-related activities are clearly against the law, the commission said.

Online sites countered that the commission's decision is irrational, violates rights of free speech and is probably unconstitutional. They say that because more than half of the population, 24 million people, are Internet users and because the ruling Millennium Democratic Party has adopted Internet voting in its primaries, online campaigning should be promoted as a cost-effective method of informing voters.

The election commission says it is not denying the benefits of the Internet. It has also said that if legal safeguards are in place to ensure fairness and responsibility by Internet media there is no reason to ban political participation via the Internet.

There is no shortage of legislation that fails to reflect the changing times. But as Assembly and presidential elections near, legislation governing the Internet and other new media is urgently needed. The job will not be easy, considering the pace of change and progress and the sensitivity of the interests that clash on the medium. A precedent is hard to find in other countries. Few countries have tried to set any rules in stone. Two years ago, the Russian authorities recognized a Web site as a news medium but switched its position soon afterwards.

Still, it is time for our authorities to pull together the wisdom of many and formulate an updated framework that will define and encourage a role for Internet news media.
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