‘Gagging’ the media

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‘Gagging’ the media

The Ministry of Justice is moving to install a new set of guidelines on media affairs to restrict exposures or leaks of information on criminal cases. Under the new guideline, prosecutors and police would be strictly regulated in disclosing information on ongoing investigations. Taking photos of those summoned for questioning or publication of the prospects of indictments will be banned. Details of the investigations cannot be shared even when they are complete.

The regulations are being drawn up after new Justice Minister Cho Kuk came into office. Under these, the public cannot know if his wife is summoned to the prosecution office for questioning or went through questioning. She would not have to pose for a photo unless she asks for it. If the prosecutors pressed for an arrest warrant, it also cannot be confirmed unless the court holds a hearing on it. The details of the charges would be known only after the trial begins. The prosecution could simply deny any information in the media.

The public also would not be able to know if any political names from the ruling party come under questioning in relation to wrongdoings over the suspicious Cho family fund. If prosecutors give up indictments, the fact could stay hidden. Since the media is kept in the dark, the sitting power can wield more influence over prosecutorial investigations. Many wrongdoers had discreetly returned home after several calls were made from higher ups under the military regimes. The people would not know if prosecutorial investigations are influenced by the political power.

The Justice Ministry and ruling party argue for the stricter rules on public disclosure on investigations, citing the leak of information about Cho family to the media. But there has been no evidence that prosecutors have leaked the information, which reporters argued they found out from their own investigations. Information leaks were rampant during the prosecution’s investigations into past conservative administrations. At the time, the ruling party made no mention of it, and in fact capitalized on the leaks for its campaign to punish the past wrongdoings.

Rules on public affairs can change upon the needs of the times. But they cannot be justified if the ministry implements the changes solely for its new minister. The new set of rules should be discussed among experts from outside. The new guidelines should be put off until the investigation over Cho’s case is closed.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 17, Page 30
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