Courage for press freedomJust like popular advertisement copy of the day, the Roh Moo-hyun administration held a little dog-and-pony show over the weekend. On Sunday, the administration summoned journalists, saying that it would give an emergency briefing. Only five journalists showed up after receiving the mobile text message sent 90 minutes before the briefing. The emergency briefing regarded the administration’s explanation of media criticism on the South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement. There was nothing new.
Even government officials apologized for “suddenly summoning you,” perhaps feeling embarrassed about the comic situation. It was clearly a preview of what this administration’s briefings will be like after consolidating press rooms at ministries.
Last week, the Government Information Agency issued a plan to upgrade support for reporting, and the majority of the people opposed it. Bipartisan criticism rose; liberals and conservatives unanimously objected. Even public servants worry about the administrative vacuum. It may not be an exaggeration to say that such large scale resistance has not been seen since the June Democratization Movement in 1987.
The National Assembly’s Culture and Tourism Committee convened yesterday, and lawmakers from all political parties criticized the administration about its new media reform policy. The lawmakers said the measure should be withdrawn immediately because it severely oppresses press freedom and violates the people’s right to know.
The Blue House, however, is unmoved. Furthermore, Kim Chang-ho, head of the Government Information Agency, claimed before the National Assembly that “I am confident that the new system will largely benefit the journalists.”
The current situation is similar to that in March of this year, when President Roh suddenly proposed a constitutional amendment to introduce a four-year presidency with a possibility of reelection, stirring up the nation. At the end of the day, Roh gave up on his constitutional revision plan and submitted to the people’s will. That was not a defeat. At the time, most of the people saw it as a decision of great courage.
We have a request for Roh once more. The president must step out and withdraw this anti-democratic media reform plan. At the same time, he should sternly punish those who attempted to take Korea’s press freedom backward by more than 20 years. That is real courage, and that should be Roh’s last service to the people.