[EDITORIALS]Press freedom gets a boostThe Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the media’s function of checking and commenting must not be easily restricted. Incumbent and former prosecutors had filed a libel suit against MBC, demanding compensation for the alleged damage to their reputations from a report on legal corruption in Daejeon. The initial ruling found the television network partly at fault, but the appeals court overturned the verdict and sent the case back to the Seoul High Court.
The Supreme Court said the ethics, transparency and fairness of a public servant should always be monitored by the people. Thus the media’s role of monitoring and commenting on issues affecting society must not be restricted unless a report is a malicious attack, the court ruled. The press therefore should be free to report on public figures and issues as long as there is no malicious intent.
U.S. courts acknowledge broad press discretion if an alleged libel victim is a public figure. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1964 ruled in the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case that simple negligence or error on the part of the press is not sufficient for proving libel; public figures must demonstrate that a false or libelous report was made with malicious intent.
What is the media environment under the Roh administration? Public officials have filed complaints against the media with the Press Arbitration Commission; some are filing libel suits. President Roh Moo-hyun filed libel suits against four daily newspapers last month, seeking 500 million won ($426,000) in compensation from each publication. Concerns are mounting that the press role of monitoring and commenting is being restricted. In that sense, the Supreme Court ruling is a positive development for press freedom.
In order to prevent official corruption, endless monitoring and criticism are necessary. In a democratic society, that is the role of the press. Public figures, therefore, should refrain from filing suits against the press recklessly. The press should also check and comment on public figures, but the reports should always be based on the truth and the public interest.