[VIEWPOINT]What’s wrong with media billAn evil mass communication law that cuts down the market share of certain newspapers will be presented to the National Assembly today. Considering that it is a bill the government party created after a long period of time, it is extremely disappointing. There are even traces of the government trying to appease the 224 civil, labor and social organizations that wanted newspaper reform.
It is a pity because the governing party is showing signs of being manipulated by various special-interest groups. It is just a relief that the bill isn’t trying to limit newspaper owners’ stocks, which would be unconstitutional.
The Uri Party says its goal is to get the bill through the current Assembly plenary session that ends in November, so there will probably be heated debates about the matter for a while.
According to the proposed “Law on the Functional Guarantee of Newspapers and the Protection of the Rights of Readers,” if one company has at least 30 percent of the newspaper market share or if three companies make up at least 60 percent of the market share, they will be designated a monopoly.
Domestically, there is no company that has a 30 percent or more market share, so it is uncertain what effect this bill will actually have. Nevertheless, the so-called “big three,” the JoongAng, Dong-A and Chosun newspapers, have a total market share of more than 60 percent, so it is obvious the bill is targeted at these specific newspapers.
This bill should not be taken lightly because the 60 percent figure has a significant symbolic meaning attached to it ― it provides the government with the legal grounds for controlling the major dailies. There can only be destructive criticism between the parties concerned.
At the moment, there is a big difference in opinion as to how market share is to be calculated. The mass communication bill contradicts existing laws on monopolies. According to Clauses 1 and 2 of Article 4 of the Fair Trade Act, a monopoly is defined as either a company that has a market share of more than 50 percent or three or fewer companies that have a total market share of 75 percent.
By just looking at the current legislation, we can predict that there will be fierce debates about the reasonableness of the bill because the total market share of the three main newspapers does not exceed 70 percent.
The purpose of this Fair Trade Act is to prevent monopolies in manufacturing, service and other industries, and to protect the consumer from illegal price-fixing. There is also the clear aim of trying to promote creative business activities through fair and free competition among companies.
However, the proposed mass communication bill can’t present clear evidence or specific reasons for its definition of a monopoly in the media market. A glance at the bill shows us that it is an attempt to unreasonably use the law to rein in specific newspapers that happen to be critical of the Roh administration.
The governing party claims that newspapers have a bigger effect on the public than the manufacturing or service industries, and so “there is no problem in tightening the conditions for market dominance,” even if it exceeds the provisions laid out in the Fair Trade Act. However, such a statement still shows us how far the governing party will go to shake up the daily newspaper market.
The opposition Grand National Party severely criticized the bill, saying it was “an evil law targeting newspapers that criticize the government” and that it was trying to take over mass communication in “an anti-market attempt to extend political power.”
Violations of the freedom of expression are divided into “content restriction” and “non-content restriction.” The Uri Party’s bill to overhaul the media not only violates the rule of impartiality because it is targeted at specific newspapers, but can also be classified as a “non-content restriction” of the freedom of the press, which indicates a clear and present danger to the free press.
If this bill passes the National Assembly, the government plans to establish newspaper development funds through taxpayers’ money, convert the Korea Press Foundation into an institute for the development of the press, and establish a special corporation for a union sales network.
We cannot be sure, but we think the people in charge of such associated organizations will probably be filled with those who want to change the newspaper market, just like the ruling power.
Friction between the governing and the opposition parties seems to be inevitable in the Assembly, right up until the mass communication bill is passed. After that, the taxes paid by the sweat of the people’s brow will vanish without a trace, all in the name of the governing party’s vague desire to “fairly develop newspapers.”
* The writer is a professor of mass communication at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shim Jae-chul