[VIEWPOINT]Media doesn’t need regulation

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[VIEWPOINT]Media doesn’t need regulation

A bill on media arbitration and damage relief has been proposed in the National Assembly. Its purposes are to prevent damage by the media and establish an effective relief system, but the bill has many clauses that could suppress the freedom of expression under the name of promoting public welfare.
A media monopoly can affect the fairness of the media, but the government’s intervention should not restrict people’s activity to pursue happiness according to the freedom of expression.
I’d like to point out a few problems with the bill. First, the compulsory requirement of an ombudsman within a newspaper will turn self-regulation into governmental regulation. As some have pointed out, the requirement of the self-review system can indicate the Uri Party’s hidden intention to restrict press activity.
In Sweden, the press ombudsman honorably ameliorates the problems between the freedom of the press and individual human rights in a third-party organization, independent of the newspaper. Japan, which imported this system, uses it to review the contents of a newspaper. Many big American newspapers have ombudsmen to deal with complaints about news coverage.
However, even though the ombuds system is used around the world, not every newspaper has one in place, because in-house watchdogs can occasionally infringe on editorial rights.
Second, the Press Arbitration Commission, adopted pursuant to the Basic Law on the Media in 1981 during the new military regime, has successfully cut down on arbitrary press reports and effectively led to objections and corrections.
This commission entrusts the press arbitration to people appointed by the minister of culture and tourism and is operated by public funds, including the broadcasting development fund and the national coffer. But this commission can be seen as an unconstitutional censoring agency.
This bill further empowers this commission to arbitrate even damage claims in civil law, which should be decided by a judge. The Uri Party justifies this by saying that the arbitration of damage claims was invoked from the arbitration system in the copyright law, but applying private disputes on copyrights to the freedom of the press and libel suits against the press makes little logical sense.
Third, requiring information disclosure upon readers’ requests is not a matter of the right to know but that of disclosing the press’ business information. This will not improve the self-regulating ability of internal conflicts between managing and editing organizations in the press and will probably restrict competition among press agencies to provide high-quality information to readers.
In the review process of the petition for legislation, the governing party rightly decided not to introduce punitive damage claims in libel suits. Likewise, the party would be better off by being open-minded and laying the foundation for journalists to display their creativity and independence that is required to produce information and knowledge freely.
Journalists must stop this legislation to take complete responsibility of the times as ethical journalists, just as they did when they were blocking implementation of the Press Ethics Commission Law, which tried to legalize the imposition of the government’s ethics on the press in 1964 under former President Park Chung Hee’s rule.
All individuals, including journalists, will then be able to acknowledge the independence of the law and ethics, have an increased law-abiding spirit, and enjoy a more free and more responsible media without needing a law to do so.

* The writer is a professor of mass communications at Konkuk University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoo Il-sang
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