[EDITORIALS]Questionable libel suitPresident Roh Moo-hyun filed libel suits against four major dailies, including the JoongAng Ilbo, asking 500 million won ($417,000) from each newspaper. We have no intention to criticize Mr. Roh for seeking protection of his rights as an individual.
But he has been expressing serious displeasure with press criticism of him. It is, therefore, reasonable for the press to suspect that the lawsuits were strategic ones to limit press freedom.
The press must watch out for misinformation in order to prevent itself from violating an individual’s rights. And yet, if a newspaper had reasons to think the information was credible, and if it was critical to report that information to protect the public interest, that reporting should be defended. If not, a newspaper could not report anything, even if the subject was a serious issue of social controversy, unless there was a government announcement or a court ruling. Then, a newspaper would have to give up its primary function of keeping an eye on corruption and irregularities.
The prosecution cleared Grand National Party Representative Kim Moon-soo, who first raised allegations involving Mr. Roh, of defamation charges. “Most of the basic facts he provided were on firm ground,” the prosecution said. “Thus, it was difficult to say that Mr. Kim had the intention of defamation.” That shows that there are enough grounds to believe that the allegations involving Mr. Roh are true. That is what makes this lawsuit look like an attempt to suppress the press.
A president’s privacy is minimal. Looking at his private life is the only way to examine his qualifications to govern this nation. If we cannot report our reasonable doubts based on facts, that is nearly the same as saying that the Washington Post should have kept quiet about the Watergate scandal until it was confirmed that Mr. Nixon had directed wiretappings.
The more serious question is whether Mr. Roh filed the libel suit only to restore his honor. If his intention was to threaten the press, it is unfortunate for press freedom and for democracy.