Flawed lawThe presidential transition committee decided to abolish the newspaper law and draw up a new law to replace it. This will help carry out President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s campaign pledge and end conflict over the issue.
In January 2005, the Roh Moo-hyun administration passed the newspaper law and the press arbitration law in the National Assembly. The motivation for the press arbitration law was wrong. These laws were supposed to be reform measures, but in fact they were designed to gag certain media outlets.
In June, the Constitutional Court ruled that some articles in the laws were unconstitutional. That means the laws were flawed from the very beginning. An article of the newspaper law, for instance, defines the three newspapers with a combined market share of more than 60 percent as dominating businesses and prohibits providing funds for newspaper development to those dailies. An article of the press arbitration law allows the filing of a request to a newspaper for correction of a news report if there is a probability that the news report is not true, without proving the case.
The incumbent administration has had a hostile policy towards media outlets that criticize it and tried to tame those outlets. The president condemned the media, saying that it is the worst product in our society and that the press hurts people and is used as a weapon. The Government Information Agency played along with the president and drew up measures to “help” journalists. Under that policy, the government shut down most press rooms in government offices. Now the presidential transition team has decided the Government Information Agency itself must be closed down. This will turn the page on an era dominated by ideology.
It is clear which direction the new newspaper law should take. First, there must be a perception that freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy so that government interference is minimized. The press arbitration law must be revised in this regard as well. Second, new media laws must follow the global trend of integrating newspapers, broadcasters, telecommunications and the Internet. Lee pledged to allow newspapers and broadcasters to do both businesses. That is a mainstream idea in our time.
The new administration must guarantee freedom of the press and implement a media policy that is suited both to the times and global standards. Only then can the balance between government and the media be restored.