Moon’s strange silenceEven as opposition to the dangerous move by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to press ahead with a revision to the Media Arbitration Act spreads, the Blue House keeps mum. Given the comparisons to “guidelines on news reports” during the military dictatorships, the time has come for President Moon Jae-in to make his position clear. If he chooses to remain silent about the DP’s attempt to restrict the people’s right to know and gag the press, that translates into his approval of the amendment.
The DP unilaterally passed the revision in a subcommittee meeting last Tuesday even with the details not fixed yet. The bill aims to impose punitive damages up to five times the claimed damages on media companies for their alleged “fake news.” The DP is poised to railroad the revision through a plenary session of the National Assembly on August 25.
In reaction to the very real threat, five major media organizations, including the Korea News Editors’ Association, issued a joint statement defining the revision as a “malicious and anti-democratic move.” The Kwanhun Club, an association of executive journalists, also released a critical statement. The Justice Party worried about “serious restriction of freedom of the press,” while the Citizen’s Coalition for Democratic Media, a pro-government group, expressed concerns about the possibility of “abuse of power by the sitting power.”
More shocking is the record of a debate in the subcommittee last week. A transcript shows the DP lawmakers dismissed problems with the revision pointed out by Vice Culture Minister Oh Young-woo and members of the National Assembly Research Service (NARS). Reacting to questions from DP lawmakers, the vice minister said it went too far to put the lower limit on the amount of damage compensation. NARS joined the chorus by saying it had not found such legislation of punitive damages anywhere else in the world.
As an opposition lawmaker taking part in a debate organized by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club in November 2014, Moon condemned a political power for trying to “step in and correct what it doesn’t like.” As chairman of the opposition in 2015, he proposed a bill protecting news sources after the Park Geun-hye administration prepared to take legal action against news reports critical of her government. The bill proposed by Moon even included a ban on search and seizure of news sources and journalists’ right to refuse testimony in the legislature and in courts.
Yet Moon and his party are pressing on with an assault on the media after skipping any talks with the opposition. Moon must clarify his position on the unconstitutional amendment before it’s too late.