[OUTLOOK]The ‘4 controversial bills’

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[OUTLOOK]The ‘4 controversial bills’

The National Assembly has been in a stalemate over the so-called “four controversial bills.” In my opinion, the problem lies in the government’s attitude of ignoring the basic principles and trying to regulate everything on the basis that something went wrong. Instead of uniformity, we need to think about selectivity. Instead of total negation, we need to think about gradual improvement.
The governing Uri party first called for the abolition of the National Security Law, citing a history of human rights abuses. But this law was enacted as a defense against North Korea’s strategy to reunify the peninsula by force, and most people still think that the law is useful for this purpose.
We can’t deny that there have been cases of human rights abuses in the application of the law by government officials. However, to deny the entire National Security Law just because there were partial mistakes in the past is like insisting on killing the bull because one was hurt by its horn.
With North Korea’s nuclear problem still unresolved and Pyeongyang reinforcing its ideological propaganda toward South Korean society, with our boundaries left open for North Korean agents to come and go, is there such an urgent need to abolish the National Security Law? Moreover, is it such an urgent issue that it should turn the political arena upside down and push public welfare issues to the back? Polls show that the majority of the people feel skeptical about the urgency of the abolition. The wiser solution would be for political leaders to agree on revising only the provisions that hold obvious elements of human rights abuses.
In a democratic country, an individual has the freedom to establish a school and educate students according to the school’s founding philosophy and methods. Many private schools have been established according to this principle and have contributed to the education of the people. Most top-quality middle and high schools and universities are private, rather than public. Why the government would want to interfere in the school board formation and personnel affairs is inexplicable from the perspective of a free democracy.
Recently, Japan expanded civilian participation in managing public schools and has revised the law so that businesses can establish universities and graduate schools for their own needs. We, on the other hand, seem to be going the opposite way. While corrupt foundations should be strictly punished and regulated, the innocent majority should be guaranteed their freedom. Such a principle of selectivity would be the more desirable choice.
The laws on media reform also clash with freedom of the press in many ways. The newspaper reform bill proposes to limit the market share of one or three newspapers in order to regulate the “monopolistic behavior” of the newspapers. How the government is to limit newspaper subscriptions is anyone’s guess, but everyone should know that newspapers are not like other commodities.
Every newspaper has its own philosophy, and in many cases the readers choose their newspaper according to its viewpoint. Limiting the circulation of the newspapers is the same as limiting the ideology and opinions of the readers. There can be no “monopoly and oligopoly” of ideology or opinions to start with, and these cannot be subject to such regulations.
If a party asks for comprehensive reform instead of partial improvements, we would inherently have to ask what the ideological direction of that reform is. If the four bills are for the sake of democracy as the governing party claims, it does not fit well with the principle of free democracy.
If the governing party has a different idea of free democracy, then it should clarify what it thinks about social unity and stability, and what the alternative value system that will bring economic development will be. That is how we will be able to put an end to this endless chaos.

*The writer is a former prime minister. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Nam Duck-woo
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