[EDITORIALS]Press freedom must winThere is a growing argument that the newspaper law and the media arbitration law should be revised or abolished, as the Constitutional Court held an open-plea session over the unconstitutionality of the laws. The court very rarely offers an open-plea session, which shows the issue’s significance.
During the session, lawyers of the petitioners said the two laws infringe on the freedom of the press, as well as the rights to property and equality, which are guaranteed in the Constitution.
In response, the government’s lawyers argued that the newspapers must be restrained for the good of the public, because newspaper companies are organizations that exist to monitor and criticize the government and society.
But the laws are very likely to infringe on the freedom of the press by legally mandating that reports be “fair and objective,” which is already the ethical obligation of the media and journalists. Under the law, the authorities are left to judge whether reporting is being done fairly or for the public good.
According to a clause in the newspaper law, if the top three newspaper companies’ combined market share exceeds 60 percent, or one newspaper company’s market share goes over 30 percent, they are “dominant market players.” It is very problematic clause, restricting the readers’ right to choose a newspaper and comes close to denying the freedom of the press.
It is also unfair to restrict newspaper companies while not regulating the market shares of broadcasters, even though broadcast media is more in the public domain. Moreover, the combined market share of the top three broadcasting companies exceeds 75 percent.
Therefore, the bills are seen as targeting major newspapers, including the JoongAng, Chosun, and Dong-A dailies, which are critical of the government. The media arbitration law, in which people can demand that corrections be run even if the media did not have any bias or fault in reporting certain facts, is another problem. Considering the fact that those who were accused of wrongdoings always deny any allegation at first, the law will make it hard for the media to raise suspicions about political authorities. That is why the Seoul Central District Court requested that the Constitutional Court look into the constitutionality of the law in January.
The Constitutional Court judges whether a law infringes on people’s basic rights. It took 13 months to arrange the open-plea session. We hope the court makes a ruling soon, and does so on a basis of law and conscience.