[EDITORIALS]Bad omens for free pressThree months after a new law governing newspapers took effect, the Newspaper Development Committee and Newspaper Distribution Center have been officially launched. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism is reported to have allocated 10 billion won ($9.6 million) to the distribution center next year and 118 billion won over the next five years.
Another 25 billion won has already been allotted for the development fund in next year’s budget.
The newspaper legislation itself, however, is still controversial. Opposition arose because many people saw it as a government effort to intervene in the market to control newspapers critical of it, rather than a step based on pure intentions to support the press.
But the National Assembly passed the bill, and there seems to be a sense of willingness to support newspapers, which are all in crisis. Therefore these new organizations must do their job properly. The law stands or falls on its ability to support the newspaper industry to form a more varied public opinion.
However, we are a bit skeptical about whether the new committees will be impartial and supportive. First, a majority of the committee members share the same political ideas as the current administration. The committees will hire only people that share that “code,” and they will be controlled by administration supporters.
There are other management questions. The distribution center had originally planned to set up a matching fund of contributions by the government and newspaper companies, but none of the companies here decided to participate. In the end, the center will be funded completely by the government, even though it would be more preferable for the newspapers to take the lead and the government to play a supporting role.
The reality is troubling. The current joint distribution company, led by some newspaper publishers, will be closed, and the new distribution center will be the only one in operation.
The Newspaper Development Committee also has some conceptual problems. The committee is to support newspapers that are in financial distress with government funds. That leads to questions about whether it can be run in a fair manner.
In short, the whole question of how to ensure the political neutrality of these new organs has to be rethought. There must, at a minimum, be some sort of oversight body to keep things even-handed.