World news associations join in decrying media bill proposed by DPThe World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum on Thursday called on Korean authorities to retract pending legislation which would impose stiff criminal penalties on media outlets for carrying what the bill's proponents have called "fake news," saying the proposed legal changes instead risk silencing critical journalism.
"Proposed changes to an arbitration law governing the media will impose disproportionate, punitive fines on publishers for any content deemed 'fake news,'" said Vincent Peyrègne, WAN-IFRA's chief executive officer.
"This would inevitably lead to abuses of interpretation that are detrimental to the freedom to inform," Peyrègne added. "The risk of over-regulation is extremely disturbing and could infringe on the freedom of the press guaranteed by the South Korean Constitution."
WAN-IFRA's statement comes after the Korean Association of Newspapers called on international support for its opposition to the pending amendment to the Press Arbitration Act, which was endorsed in late July by lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and a liberal minor opposition party member on a subcommittee of the National Assembly's Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee.
If the bill is passed, any member of the media, including newspapers, TV broadcasters and internet outlets, must compensate a victim up to five times the amount of the damage caused, either intentionally or accidentally, by a false or deceptive report.
Although the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) members on the subcommittee boycotted the vote in protest, the government plans to push the amendment ahead of other procedures so it can be passed at an upcoming Aug. 25 plenary session of the legislature.
In addition to WAN-IFRA and the Korean Association of Newspapers, four domestic media associations — the Journalists Association of Korea, Korea News Editors' Association, Korea Woman Journalists Association and the Korea Internet Newspaper Association — have issued a joint statement condemning the bill and urged the DP to reverse course, arguing "any attempt to control or censor media will cause serious harm to Korea's democracy."
The PPP has also condemned the DP for what they called the DP's decision to railroad the bill through the National Assembly subcommittee without following proper procedures.
At a press conference on July 28, PPP lawmakers criticized the bill and the way in which it was passed through the subcommittee stage despite the absence of detailed scrutiny.
"As the subcommittee passed the bill without presenting specifics of the revision before voting on it, the voting is invalid," PPP lawmakers said. "If the subcommittee does not deliberate on the revision to the Press Arbitration Act again, we will not participate in a legislative process that will violate the National Assembly Act."
The Korean Association of Newspapers also criticized the bill for imposing criminal sanctions in an area of law that is already equipped with civil and criminal consequences for defamation and insult resulting from erroneous media reports.
"Applying additional punitive damages on media does not conform with Korea's legal system and it is most likely to violate the constitutional principle of the punishment — the concept of proportionality, which assists in discerning the correct balance between the restriction imposed by a corrective measure and the severity of the nature of the prohibited act," the association said.
The association noted that Reporters Without Borders stated in its annual Press Freedom Index Report that defamation cases involving the press are best handled in civil lawsuits, not in criminal prosecutions.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]