[EDITORIALS]Keep hands off newspapersA warning signal on newspaper independence has been turned on. The Fair Trade Commission announced that it will revise article 11 of newspaper regulations. Article 11 stipulates that the distribution of expensive gifts for promotion shall be self-regulated by the Newspaper Association, and the FTC will intervene when the self-regulation fails. Now, the FTC says the revision will allow it to intervene, scrutinizing the industry’s management, without awaiting the association’s own efforts.
The newspaper regulations were resuscitated under Kim Dae-jung, when his administration launched a tax probe into newspapers. The FTC discarded the rule on newspapers in 1999 in light of easing restrictions. But it revived the rule in 2001. At that time, the Presidential Committee for Anti-Regulation opposed the reintroduction on the grounds that it could “infringe on press freedom.” The committee inserted “self-regulation” in article 11 to prevent violation of press freedom. In 2001, the FTC investigated newspapers to uncover unfair trade practices. The watchdog imposed some tens of billions of won in back taxes on newspapers but canceled them recently, which is admitting it’s made a mistake. Under these circumstances, the regulation should be discarded; it is outrageous that the FTC is strengthening the rule.
There are things newspapers should reflect on. Last year, some papers launched overheated sales promotions, which brought them criticism. Recently, newspapers announced that they would refrain from sales competition and the association strengthened its self-regulatory efforts, imposing huge penalty on violators.
The FTC’s direct intervention can only be interpreted as government intervention in the newspaper industry under the excuse of fair trade. Newspapers should also observe fair trade. But the government should not intervene in the media in the form of regulations. That is because there are liabilities in violating press freedom. Self-regulation of the Newspaper Association is working. The new government should not invite an unnecessary misunderstanding.