Freedom and responsibility

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Freedom and responsibility

Freedom of speech is one of the most inalienable rights in a democracy. The Supreme Court and Constitutional Court have reaffirmed the simplest of truths in recent rulings by significantly broadening the scope of freedom of expression. How should we interpret the highest courts’ conclusions?

The issue of freedom of expression has long been a political football in the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, particularly after the exacerbation of ideological conflict stemming from massive candlelight protests against the government’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports in 2008. The prosecution at the time accused the production staff of MBC’s “PD Diary” of defamation and in 2009 arrested Park Dae-sung on charges of spreading false rumors about the government’s economic policies under the pseudonym “Minerva” in cyberspace. The Supreme Court, however, found both of the defendants not guilty.

The same rulings were given by the Constitutional Court. It declared Article 1 of the telecommunication law, which served as the foundation for prosecuting Park, and another clause of the public office election law, which restricted online campaigns through Twitter, for instance, as against the Constitution. The court last week ruled Internet companies’ demand for real-name registration when users post comments on their sites unconstitutional.

The two high courts’ decisions seem to say no to restrictions or criminal punishments on expressions of opinions. In a series of rulings, the Supreme Court has upheld relaxation of restrictions on the foremost freedom, saying, “Government’s policy decisions and other activities are subject to people’s monitoring and criticism.” The Constitutional Court also defined freedom of speech as an indispensable element in sustaining and developing our democracy, putting the brakes on power abuse by the government.

At the same time, however, we must not forget the fact that social responsibility grows in proportion to our freedoms. The verdicts don’t justify misleading arguments or reports. The courts’ rulings do not give license to unfettered mudslinging or cyberterror.

The first amendment to the U.S. constitution protects freedom of speech broadly yet employs strict standards when it hurts others’ dignity and harms public safety. That’s why we should cultivate a mature citizenship.
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