Forced media closings called illegal
Wrapping up years of investigation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded yesterday that the military regime of Chun Doo Hwan used state power to infringe upon press freedom by forcibly shutting down or consolidating the Korea’s media in its push to control the nation.
“The state needs to recognize its responsibility and apologize to the victims of its action,” the commission recommended. “Furthermore, the honor of the victims should be restored and appropriate measures must be taken to compensate them for their damages.”
In 1980, the Chun regime forcibly restructured the nation’s media industry. Sixty-four media companies, including 28 newspapers and 29 broadcasters, were forced to shut down or merge with others under orders from the military regime. After the action, the country was left with 18 media companies comprising 14 newspapers, three broadcasters and one wire service. More than 1,000 journalists were fired and 172 periodicals closed.
Tongyang Broadcasting Company, which had been owned by the JoongAng Ilbo, was also forced to consolidate with the KBS.
“Around January 1980, military authorities led by Chun began discussions on how to take over the administration,” said Lee Young-jo, president of the commission, in a press conference yesterday afternoon. “By March, the authorities had set forth a plan to control media that could be an obstacle to its action.” Chun was officially sworn into office in September 1980 following the military coup on Dec. 12, 1979. The forcible restructuring of the media industry took place in November 1980.
Lee also said military authorities had taken action against media without legal grounds. “When the regime forced the media company owners to give up their businesses, soldiers attended the meeting with guns and swords and pressured them to sign the documents,” Lee said.
“The mass layoffs of journalists were forced by the military authorities so that they could create a media environment submissive to the regime,” the commission said in its press release.
“Based on intelligence reports about the journalists’ tendencies, the regime found that about 30 percent of the reporters were resistant to its rule and forced the media companies to fire them ... Military authorities continued to suppress the fired reporters by restricting their re-employment, threatening their lives.”
The press release added that some of them were sent to the Samcheong Training Camp, a type of concentration camp to discipline people the regime considered harmful to society.
The commission concluded that the state must admit to its responsibility for infringing upon press freedom.
“Including those who filed petitions to the commission to lay bare the truth about this incident, the state must take appropriate actions to restore the victims’ honor and compensate them for their suffering,” the commission said.
According to Lee, it is the first time that the commission has urged the state to come up with compensation plans, although the government had been advised in the past to apologize to victims of the incident.
Six petitions were filed with the commission to investigate the case, and the probe began in 2007. At the time, the commission called the incident “a historically grave case.”
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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