Lawmakers condemn fake news crackdown

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Lawmakers condemn fake news crackdown

Lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties raised objections Wednesday about the government’s push to crack down on fake news, expressing concern that it could be used as a tool to suppress news critical of the current administration.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon has strongly denounced fake news as a “disturber of democracy” and ordered stern measures after a guestbook message he left at late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh’s residence last month was falsely said to be meant for North Korea’s leadership.

The government has since been putting together a set of crackdown measures and plans to unveil them later this month. Minister Hong Nam-ki, chief of the Office for Government Policy Coordination, said during a parliamentary audit Wednesday the government is committed to deal sternly with fake news without hurting freedom of expression.

Still, lawmakers expressed concern about the planned crackdown.

“It could be very dangerous to say that we’re going to do something about fake news, false and fabricated information,” Rep. Je Youn-kyung of the ruling Democratic Party said during the audit of the Prime Minister’s office. “The criteria for false and fabricated information could be how uncomfortable it would sound to the government.”

Je said that previous conservative governments also labeled the claims of the current ruling party fake and fabricated. Had those governments launched investigations and issued punishments, many people would have resisted it, she said.

“People would find it uncomfortable for our government to set its criteria as the absolute good and determine what’s fake or fabricated,” Je said. “We need to approach this in a more cool-headed manner, rather than Prime Minister Lee stepping forward.”

Rep. Chu Hye-seon of the Justice Party also voiced opposition.

“How can the government crack down on fake news in a democratic nation? This is an ill-conceived idea,” she said. “I can’t understand that the prime minister, who fought for press freedom [as a journalist], ordered swift investigations.”

Cracking down on fake news would be no different from what past authoritarian governments did, she said.

Rep. Lee Tae-kyu of the Bareunmirae Party also said the government’s push to crack down on fake news could foster an atmosphere of a “totalitarian nation,” adding that fake news can be dealt with in a way where those affected request an investigation.

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