[EDITORIALS]Oh! freedom of speechFour former and incumbent reporters for MBC television have been charged with libel by the Daejeon District Court for their disclosure in 1999 of a scandal involving judges and prosecutors who were alleged to have received payoffs for referring cases to lawyers. The accusations later proved to be true. One MBC reporter was even detained, prompting civic groups to protest the court’s ruling as oppressing freedom of speech.
In its ruling the presiding chamber of judges insisted that “the illegality exists because, regardless of its contribution to the common good, the news report contained certain parts that were found to be false.” It said that the media company had to take legal responsibility for having made groundless reports, prone to commercialism and sensationalism without asserted efforts to eliminate its mistakes.
As the chamber of judges stated, the freedom of the press is not absolute or unlimited. News providers and journalists should bear legal responsibility when violating laws. But to call reporters to account for partial mistakes without considering the entire content of their report only obstructs their freedom of speech. That is why our judiciary system has not prosecuted libel cases when the reporter had significant evidence to believe that the report was true and that it was in the interest of the common good.
Since the 1964 case of New York Times v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in consistently in favor of the media in libel cases. It is still the tendency in America to weigh the public’s interest in case of protecting freedom of speech and the interest in case of restricting it.
The disclosure in 1999 led to a special investigation finding that a certain lawyer had been paying “commission fees” to employees of the court, the prosecution and the police and bribing certain judges and prosecutors. As a result, the entire judiciary system was recast. To detain one of the reporters who disclosed the affair was a terrible misjudgment of the judiciary. The reporters should be allowed to appeal without being detained.