Press blamed for Cho’s fall

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Press blamed for Cho’s fall

The Journalists Association of Korea issued a statement condemning the new press guidelines from the Ministry of Justice, which bar both the disclosure of criminal cases and the entry of reporters to the prosecution buildings if deemed “hurtful to the human rights” of those involved in a case. The press club denounced it as an attempt to undermine press watch and as an excessive force of censorship through government power.

Under the new 35-point guidelines, prosecutors and investigators cannot come in personal contact with a reporter. Any reporter who has misreported on prosecutorial affairs can be denied entry to the prosecution premises. The measures violate the constitutional rights of the freedom of the press. It is also outlandish to make such guidelines when the head of the ministry is absent after the resignation of Cho Kuk. The reporters association and bar association denied that they had approved the guidelines referred by the ministry.

The thought of restricting press coverage of prosecutorial affairs is a serious challenge to the country’s democracy. The ministry has also defamed the press by implying it is the source of bogus news that hurts human rights. Should a prosecutor be fired after losing a case? Who is to make judgment on the inaccuracy of news anyway, when even the court cannot determine the truth?

Under the guidelines which go into effect on Dec. 1, reporters are practically barred from chasing corruption cases involving the leadership of the prosecution. The 2001 corruption case of Lee Yong-ho, then-head of the restructuring entity G&G Group, can act as a perfect example. The press suspected the involvement of someone higher up in the prosecution after Lee was released on profiteering and embezzlement charges. His wrongdoings were later confirmed and the scandal spread to figures in the national spy agency and the president’s family. If the reporters had been banned, the political connection could not have been uncovered.

The mandate ordering prosecutors to deny commenting on press findings “beyond acceptability”, and to take action if the press goes on reporting it, is most preposterous. Banning a reporter to seek confirmation is illegal and forcing investigators to keep their mouths shut is also shameful to their dignity. Public employees who have studied law would be bewildered at the order to disregard the Constitution’s values.

The guidelines came after President Moon Jae-in asked for “press self-reflection” after Cho resigned amidst a media frenzy. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said “press freedom should be allowed to the press that deserves it.” The ruling force is entirely blaming the press for the fall of Cho and the resulting loss of public confidence. The ministry must immediately retract the unconstitutional press guidelines if it does not want to demean law enforcement officers as the servants to the president.
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