Going against the ConstitutionThe Moon Jae-in administration and ruling Democratic Party (DP) are pushing a controversial bill that could critically infringe on the freedom of speech. If the DP railroads the bill through its overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, that would represent a denial of the people’s rights and a refusal of dialogue and compromise.
The DP is pressing ahead with a special bill aimed at finding the truth behind the May 18, 1980 Democracy Movement and punish historical distortions. The bill allows the government to jail anyone who maliciously distorts or fabricates facts about the movement for up to seven years or fine them up to 70 million won ($61,772). As the historic significance of the May 18 movement has long been recognized, it’s hard to agree with far-rightists’ arguments that the North Korean military intervened in the movement or that it was orchestrated by a mob. If someone spreads wrong facts, they can always be punished under current criminal law.
Nevertheless, the DP is preparing to pass the bill within the ongoing regular session of the National Assembly. It threatens to railroad it through the legislature if the opposition People Power Party opposes. We are deeply concerned that the DP wants to monopolize history. We are worried about the ruling party’s habit of dividing people into friends and foes. Has the party really forgotten the ramifications of the former Park Geun-hye administration’s attempt to write a single history textbook for high schools across the country?
The DP has included a clause that mandates punishment for fake news spreaders. The ruling party says the clause is aimed at strictly penalizing fake news, but that can restrict freedom in academia, the arts and the press. A similar bill was proposed in the last National Assembly, but was withdrawn due to its unconstitutionality. Interpretation of history should be left to scholars and other experts, not to ruling party legislators
Another bill that would force media outlets to pay punitive damages also contradicts the spirit of our Constitution. The bill allows a court to levy fines up to five times damages claimed. No one can quarrel with a government move to fight fake news. But as the concept of fake news is vague, the bill could be used to gag the press. In an urgent debate on Tuesday among media organizations, several journalists expressed concerns about the “serious threat the bill would pose to our democracy.”
The government and DP must scrap the bill and realize the danger of flirting with unconstitutionality. You cannot cut off your nose to spite your face. They must not forget that they championed freedom of speech more than anyone in a long battle against authoritarian governments. Who threatens it now?