&#91EDITORIALS&#93A victory for the press

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[EDITORIALS]A victory for the press

Lee Nam-kee, the chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, confessed that the real reason for canceling penalty charges on newspapers was "because of the FTC's concern over losing legal cases against the papers." At an informal meeting of the National Assembly's National Policy Committee held Tuesday, Mr. Lee said, "According to lawyers the commission hired for trials against newspapers, the chances for the FTC to win were low and the penalty charges placed on the media were liable to be rescinded." Meanwhile, the commission has explained that canceling a 182 billion won ($155 million) penalty imposed on 13 newspapers was done out of concern for the weakening of "the public function of the news media, due to financial difficulties arising from excessive penalty charges."

When the commission launched a tax probe on newspapers in 2001, it investigated insider deals that resulted in large penalties. Korea's legal community raised objections and expressed worries about a possible violation of the constitution. But the commission justified the measure. Mr. Lee's remarks at the Assembly are tantamount to his admission that the FTC's arguments were all lies, and the tax probe was to shackle newspapers, oppressing freedom of the press.

We have warned of the possibility that the commission can be misused for noneconomic purposes. Now our worries have proven to be justified. The reputation of the commission has been damaged beyond repair and Mr. Lee must accept the responsibility.

There is something unclear in the reaction of the presidential transition team to the decision. In the beginning, the team ordered a thorough investigation. On matters that did not violate laws, the government has intervened and exaggerated, as if these were vicious crimes, and imposed huge penalties threatening the survival of the news media. Now, the government rescinds the penalty as if out of generosity. Oppression in the name of "reform" should be stopped once and for all.
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