[VIEWPOINT]It’s time to unshackle the press

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[VIEWPOINT]It’s time to unshackle the press

The Constitutional Court ruled certain provisions of the Newspaper Law and the Press Arbitration Law to be unconstitutional. The main point of the decision was that it was unconstitutional to regulate the newspaper business more strictly than other businesses under the Fair Trade Act, but the court did not accept the appeals of most clauses. So the unconstitutionality ruling was only nominal.
The majority opinion of the Constitutional Court accepted the controls on newspapers and the reinforcement of the press arbitration system set forth by the newspaper laws.
On the communality, impartiality, editorial freedom and independence, and the ombudsman system, which are supposed to be entrusted to the ethical discretion and practice of journalists, the court called them disjunctive, abstract and advisory and refrained from making a decision to let journalists make the call.
However, the court’s reluctance to rule might weaken mankind’s natural autonomy and infringe on the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Many clauses in the two media-related laws were legislated in raw haste by the pro-government civil organizations. The clauses have been proven problematic in the review process at the National Assembly, but the Constitutional Court only offered the lame excuses that the clauses were out of its jurisdiction.
Most of the civil organizations involved in the legislation receive government subsidies from the public. Because they are not agencies outside of the government that raise their own funds and practice true autonomy, the civil organizations are not much different from bureaucratic apparatuses.
Professor Denis McQuail of the University of Amsterdam proposes democratic participation as one of the norms an advanced media company has to follow. According to his standards, the press should not be controlled by political regulations or national censorship. It should exist only for the readers.
The Constitutional Court acknowledged that the freedom of the press and publication, which is common sense in a civilized society, is a spiritual and political liberty and should be given priority over other organizations.
Also, it is a systematic freedom as well as a personal freedom. However, the majority of the Constitutional Court transferred the controversy over the press law to the National Assembly’s discretion once again, despite the present Korean society’s ardent anticipation.
In the course of discussing the future of press-related laws, the National Assembly must exercise its legislative right honorably, in front of history and society.
The Newspaper Development Commission and the public release of a newspaper company’s business information, two issues that were excluded from the unconstitutionality ruling, are the keys to the media persecution.
First, the Newspaper Development Commission can make newspapers more obedient by offering taxpayer subsidies to newspapers that curry favor with those in power.
However, it is more likely to discourage the few quality newspapers and damage the diversity of newspapers. It is very frustrating that even the newspaper that had threatened sources and confused the readers with substandard writing will enjoy a brisk business under the regulation of the current administration.
This is why the Newspaper Development Fund should be abolished and the commission disbanded.
Secondly, according to the Freedom of Information Law, a company can keep management information confidential and should only release that when it is necessary to defend the life and property of citizens from illegal and unlawful business activities. It is absurd to demand newspaper companies, whose management information can be a commodity, to release its information.
There is a risk of standardizing the cost of producing news articles. Each newspaper has different means of acquiring resources to produce information and opinions, and making the information public will discourage healthy competition to make better newspapers.
It is wrong to ask newspapers to release the information that make each paper unique in perspective, content and quality.
At any rate, government’s attempt to command the media will only bring a tremendously adverse reaction and go against the progress of history.
Making a law that controls newspapers and forcibly regulates the autonomous territory of journalists strangles those who wish to speak up. It is what Louis Althusser would call an “oppressive state apparatus.”
The time has come for the National Assembly to regain its political power and exhibit its ability to prepare legal grounds for the media companies to effectively check on the government.

* The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of Mass Communication and Public Relations at Konkuk University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ryu Il-sang
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