[EDITORIALS]Keep the press truly free

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[EDITORIALS]Keep the press truly free

Six of Korea’s daily newspapers have presented the government with a proposal for a unified newspaper distribution center. They argue that more than 165 billion won ($165 million) would be needed ―a 70 billion won initial investment, 90 billion won in operational funds and an additional 5 billion won to set up test centers.
We do not oppose the newspapers themselves setting up such a system. In these times of excessive competition and overlapping distribution, it could curtail unnecessary spending. The problem is in the idea that the distribution center would be funded by the national treasury.
Clause 37, Article 5 in the controversial Newspaper Law allows for the government to cover costs stemming from newspaper distribution centers. That is why the idea was submitted to the government. But regardless of the degree to which newspapers serve the public interest, they are essentially private organizations. It is neither reasonable nor proper to spend the people’s taxes on such private companies.
The original proposal reportedly includes a clause that the nationwide distribution network could be used as an informational network by government agencies, both national and regional. This presents a serious conflict of interest for the media, which should be critically monitoring the government instead of doing services for it.
During the recent World Association of Newspapers Congress in Seoul, the association’s incoming president, Gavin O’Reilly, criticized Korea’s media legislation as being “somewhat incompatible with internationally recognized standards governing the freedom to publish.” The bills passed by the National Assembly have clauses that could be considered unconstitutional, such as its limits on the market shares of newspapers.
Since the bills were passed in January, several domestic newspapers have asked the Constitutional Court to determine whether the impending laws, to come into effect in July, violate the rights to the pursuit of happiness, equality and freedom of expression. Most recently, the Chosun Ilbo filed a petition last Thursday seeking a ruling on the laws’ constitutionality. Rather than sit back and wait for the court’s ruling, the National Assembly must eliminate the disputed clauses immediately. Only by doing so can further chaos be avoided.
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