[Outlook]Media law in the Internet age

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[Outlook]Media law in the Internet age

Let’s time-travel to 20 years ago. Libraries displayed every page of newspapers in the main hall so that people could read the news. When students took a break, they read newspapers. Some libraries kept newspapers under glass panels to prevent them from being damaged. Newspapers delivered not only news but also information and entertainment.

These days computers have taken over that role. People read news, search for information and seek entertainment on the Internet. Information was shared by newspapers back then but now it is shared through the Internet.

The media environment is changing rapidly, but the ban on certain businesses operating broadcasters has remained in place for more than 20 years. The ban on newspapers running broadcasters started in 1980 when media outlets were streamlined under authoritarian rule. But the injustice of the regulation is not being discussed. The changes in the media environment since the media law was established to present day are ignored. Since the mid-1990s many advanced countries have rolled back bans on certain businesses owning TV stations, but Korea has shut its ears to this news.

It is therefore good but belated that the Grand National Party recently presented a revision to the media law. Overall, it is a necessary measure to respond to changes in the media environment.

What’s most noteworthy is it allows foreign large-scale newspaper companies to enter the domestic broadcasting business. The bill will also allow newspapers to hold up to a 20 percent stake in a network broadcaster. Some say the measure is designed to benefit newspapers that are friendly with the incumbent administration.

However, allowing dailies to enter broadcasting is not to benefit the newspapers but to correct the existing discriminatory regulation. Unlike conglomerates, newspapers are not allowed to be involved in broadcasting at all. Therefore, the revision will restore dailies’ status to the level of other businesses.

So far, the reason for the discriminatory measure has been to prevent a single media outlet from dominating public opinion. When newspapers dominated or controlled public opinion and when our economy was smaller, this made sense. But it is a government’s duty to re-examine the necessity of this measure now that things have changed. Now broadcasters and their employees enjoy the law because it locks newspapers out of that sector of business.

The government’s stance should be different now that the broadcasting and communication sectors are integrating and new types of media are emerging.

First, the way to secure diverse opinions should be different. The aim of media policy has been to make a variety of opinions accessible to people. Unlike the old days when newspapers and TV stations were the only places to get information, today access to a variety of opinions can be secured through competition among different media outlets.

Because people get information in a variety of ways, it is enough if the government makes up for a specific lack of diversity in opinions using state broadcasters.

How many state channels are needed, how to finance them and how state broadcasters’ independence and responsibility can be ensured should be discussed later.

Second, the government must make more effort to protect individuals’ personal rights. The emergence of a variety of media outlets means an increase in opportunities to express one’s own opinions; that is, enhanced freedom of speech.

The problem is that this also makes way for greater infringement of individual rights, such as libel or insulting or disturbing others’ privacy. Comments on Internet portals are prime examples.

Another task is to find out how to hold those who infringe on personal rights accountable. Most violators are individuals, not media outlets, as was the case in the past. As they are not media outlets, press arbitration law can’t be applied. Because comments or rumors on the Internet spread rapidly, it is difficult to handle them in court. The only possibility is either to give Internet portals the right and responsibility to handle libelous content, or to establish a new arbitration entity. This is why laws on both press arbitration and information and communication networks should be revised.

In the National Assembly, the discussion should go beyond general topics such as freedom of the press or diversity of opinion.

The discussion should address concrete methods to secure a diversity of opinions in the new media environment and realistic measures to stop infringement of personal rights soon after such abuses occur.

The writer is a professor of law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Moon Jae-wan

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