Taking responsibilityThe Seoul Central District Court ruled yesterday that Internet portals are responsible for news articles posted on their systems and thus need to pay compensation for any damage.
The portals have edited and posted news stories from the media and this is clearly a press activity. However, the portals argued that they do not have the same characteristics as the press or periodicals and thus should be free of the normal accountability of the press.
Last year, the Seoul southern district court ruled that the portals are responsible for checking the truth of news articles. These two decisions show that the courts view the social responsibility of portals in the same way as they do the press. This is a positive sign.
The relentless legal and moral arguments presented by the portals under the guise of the free circulation of information and ideas are overvalued and that judgement is now shared by the courts. The four biggest Internet portals in Korea were the ones ordered to pay compensation.
Three of them started an uproar recently because they did not prevent obscene materials from being posted on their sites. They rake in enormous profits every year and exercise as much influence as the press.
It is pointless for them to try and avoid their duty. The portals have enjoyed an oligopoly and have expanded their business to include entertainment, games, shopping and user created content.
They have been criticized for invading the territories of smaller companies. The search methods available at the portals, which only benefit the site and their sponsors, are another problem. They have also limited the exposure of news articles that showed them in a disadvantageous light. This is a manipulation of public opinion.
We cannot let the portals operate without supervision. This is the time for the National Assembly to propose legislation that makes portals accept social responsibility according to their influence.
The current information, telecommunication and electronic communication laws are not enough. The newspaper or the press arbitration laws should be strengthened or new laws should be established in the assembly.
For obscene or defamatory materials, those who posted them and the portals where they are viewed must be held responsible. The portals may worry about freedom of speech, but taking responsibility in proportion to their freedoms and profits could produce an upgrade of Korea’s Internet culture.