[VIEWPOINT]Problems with newspaper billThe Uri Party has decided to introduce a new bill to greatly revise the Registration of Periodicals Act, on media arbitration and damage compensation, and a revision of the Broadcasting Act. These bills, however, have several problems.
The newspaper bill in particular, contrary to its name, harms the newspapers’ function to uphold the public’s right to know and contains grave unconstitutional elements that go against our basic order of free democracy.
The bill does not promote the public’s right to know by allowing the free publishing of autonomous newspapers. On the contrary, the bill would allow the government to control the newspapers’ content in a particular direction.
For example, publishers of regular daily periodicals or news broadcasters must keep a guideline book issued by the government’s editing committee in their main offices. This committee must consist of members of the newspapers’ editorial staff who represent the business and employees who are in charge of news coverage and printing.
However, the principle that this committee should be run on the joint decision of the management and labor is an excessive restriction of the basic freedom of newspapers, a restriction that goes against the Constitution and the legal order and a violation of Articles 1 and 3 of Section 21 of the Constitution.
The right of editing is a right acknowledged by the Constitution, but it is a right that is included in the internal freedom of the media, an exclusive right that a particular party holds in a monopoly. It is not a right that is subject to a joint decision exercised through the formation of a particular committee in which all members of the production process participate.
To decide basic guidelines for editing compulsory laws and to impose fines or even prison sentences for violations brings up grave issues.
Not only is there a question of whether it is compatible with the constitutional principle of legality and the principle that the state must not arbitrarily inflict severe punishment, it also violates the essence of the freedom of speech and of the media. The law reminds one of the oppressive “Media Basic Act” of the 1980s that especially emphasized the public function of the media.
The new bill even provides for the creation of a readers’ committee, the “reader” in the bill referring to the consumer who is buying the news as a product. But this erroneously portrays a freedom of speech issue and the regulation of newspapers as a consumer issue.
Could such a “popular system” that allows the “reader,” whose entity is ambiguous and who is not a stockholder of a newspaper company, to participate in the making and publishing of the newspaper? Could such a “popular system” that doles out administrative penalties for legal violations be acceptable in our country’s constitutional order of free democracy?
Despite a Constitutional Court ruling that said advertisements are covered under the freedom of speech, the Uri Party’s bill stipulated that the newspaper publisher must “not confuse articles with advertisements and distinguish clearly between the two in editing.” This is a clear pre-emptive restriction of the freedom of expression.
Restricting or reorganizing newspaper firms artificially and compulsively by law violates the rights of property, the freedom of business and the freedom of the media in our constitutional order of free democracy and market economy.
Yet, while admitting that the new Internet-based media has grown sharply in stature and influence, the government seems reluctant to accept new forms of the media. It still forbids cross management among the media, such as the broadcasting business of newspapers.
The media’s life is in its autonomy.
This proposed newspaper act goes against the cultural identity of Korea. Korea is a country that aims to protect the media’s freedom of speech and the right of an independent media, free from the government’s influence. Korea also upholds a free democracy as a constitutional right.
* The writer is a professor of constitutional law at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Kyung-keun