Gov’t can change textbooks: Court

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Gov’t can change textbooks: Court

The country’s highest court ruled yesterday that the government may order private textbook companies to alter the content of their publications despite objections from authors. The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court decision saying that such a move did not violate authors’ rights.

In the case, Kim Han-jong, a professor at Korea National University of Education, and four co-authors filed a complaint against Kumsung Publishing and government watchdog Korea Authorized Textbook over changes to their modern and contemporary history textbook.

They alleged that the publisher’s decision to revise parts of the book on the recommendation of the government without their consent infringed upon their rights.

But the court said the authors agreed to the potential for such changes when they signed a contract with Kumsung considering that they knew publishing was contingent on approval from the Ministry of Education.

“When the authors signed their contracts with the publisher, it was reasonable to believe that they agreed to revisions in parts of the textbook should they be recommended by the education minister,” yesterday’s ruling said. “There is no legal ground to view the publisher’s decision to abide by the administrative measure as illegal.”

Textbooks in Korea are not directly vetted by the government but must rather meet certain guidelines established by the Education Ministry.

The case dates back to October 2008 when the ministry first recommended changes to the textbook that the five authors refused to accept.

Yet despite the authors’ objections, the ministry told the publisher to revise 36 sections of the book in November 2008, which Kumsung later did. The revised textbooks were then published as approved by the ministry.

In 2011, the Seoul High Court gave the government the power to order changes to textbooks - something that had not been allowed under the law since the 1980s.

Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, government officials and history textbook authors often clashed as authorities pressured publishers to revise content they viewed as too left-leaning or otherwise politically biased.

And earlier, under the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, conservatives and civic groups had criticized the government for approving textbooks that were too liberal or viewed North Korea in an overly favorable light.

Academics also took up the cause during the Lee administration. They said decisions to revise school textbooks should be left to educators instead of government officials and politicians.

By Kang Jin-kyu []
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