Free reign for false informationThe “Chung Bong-ju bill” proposed by the opposition Democratic United Party is an idea dangerous enough to threaten our elections and the justice system. A former lawmaker, Chung was imprisoned last December on charges of spreading false rumors that Lee Myung-bak - then the ruling party candidate in the 2007 presidential election - was involved in an illegal stock-price rigging in the BBK financial scam.
Since the Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling that he serve one year in prison, the DUP has persistently insisted on his innocence. In what translates into a grave challenge to our legal system, some candidates for the party leadership election in January demanded his immediate release and those elected went to his prison to demonstrate their firm support for him.
In the bill, the DUP strengthened the conditions for punishing people who distribute false information. It inserted a clause mandating that punishment be given only to those who spread information knowing that it is false. If the bill, which is an amendment to the election law, is enacted, many people will attempt to avoid legal responsibility by arguing they didn’t know what they did was wrong. If the authorities’ ability to punish violators is diminished, even if an election is damaged as a result of the revision - as it could have been with the BBK case - the result will be an unfettered diffusion of false accusations in cyberspace in particular. Who, then, will be responsible for elections if voters make decisions based on misinformation?
The bill also has a supplementary provision that would exempt from punishment a person convicted under the existing law. If the opposition camp gains a majority of seats in the April legislative elections and passes the bill in the National Assembly - and if President Lee waives his right to veto it - Chung will be freed after serving only half of his prison term.
Politicians are already under fire for having passed a special law aimed at using taxpayer money to provide financial support to the countless victims of the savings bank scandal. If politicians habitually resort to retroactive legislation for their own expediency, it will no doubt shake the foundation of our society.
Now liberal intellectuals like Cho Kuk, a high-profile law professor at Seoul National University, and Gong Ji-young, a novelist, are joining forces with the DUP to push for the controversial legislation. If you read the court ruling, you will understand why Chung went to prison and how wrong the bill is. But there are still so many people caught up in the illusion.