[EDITORIALS]Stop the newspaper bias now

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[EDITORIALS]Stop the newspaper bias now

The Fair Trade Commission has sent questionnaires by mail to the readers of three major newspapers ― JoongAng, Dong-a and Chosun Ilbo ― asking whether they were offered gifts or free subscriptions from the newspaper distributors. It is apparently an abuse of power. The commission defends its action, however, saying, “It is a proper execution of our official duty to investigate witnesses under Article 50 of the Fair Trade Act.”
But it is an apparent abuse of power for the commission to first demand that distributors submit lists of subscribers and then send a questionnaire that is no different from an investigative report to those on the lists. The subscribers, who were asked to write their names, addresses and even telephone numbers, must have felt uneasy, wondering how their personal information had been leaked.
Nobody objects to the commission’s proposal to restore order in the newspaper market by inducing fair competition. But it is not right for a government agency to investigate subscribers of certain newspapers. If the government didn’t concentrate on “killing certain newspapers,” an idea like this could not have been produced. How can a government branch misuse customer information that is submitted by local distributors in compliance with its own demand?
The commission’s newspaper bashing has gone beyond the bounds of propriety. Since April 1, it has implemented a system of paying incentives to people who report gifts or free subscription offers from newspapers, advertising the reporting system through radio broadcasts at a cost of 300 million won ($300,000). As people in the newspaper business as a whole are treated like criminals, it is tantamount to condemning the entire newspaper business. Local distributors have virtually stopped their businesses. But the commission is not budging an inch, saying, “The radio advertisements will continue indefinitely.”
The commission prides itself on playing a prosecutorial role in the economy. To do so, it should enforce the law fairly and transparently. Where it decided to impose penalties, over 50 percent of the cases were struck down by the court. That was largely due to an incorrect interpretation of the law or a lack of evidence. If investigations are not reasonable and transparent, and not acceptable to the concerned parties, this vicious cycle will be repeated. The commission must implement the law fairly and restore confidence first. It must stop its biased investigation of newspaper subscribers immediately.

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