Removing a pivot to democracyThe ruling Democratic Party (DP) is poised to cross a point of no return. The liberal party unilaterally passed a highly controversial media arbitration act in a full session of the Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee at the National Assembly Thursday following minor modifications in a subcommittee meeting earlier. The DP even allowed Rep. Kim Eui-kyeom, a lawmaker from a satellite party, to feign cooperation from an opposition party on the bill.
DP floor leader Yoon Ho-joong claimed that the ruling party had been listening to various voices of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and press organizations to reflect their opinion. We don’t think so. Six media organizations, including the Korean Associations of Newspapers, and four major press organizations, including even the progressive National Union of Media Workers, all publicly denounced the passage of the bill by the committee. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the International Press Institute also joined the chorus. We seriously wonder if the Moon Jae-in administration will ignore the strong criticisms against the bill.
Despite some adjustments, the essence of the draconian bill didn’t change. As a media expert describes, the bill regards the press as a “producer of fake or manipulated news.” The bill would allow punitive damages of up to five times the damages claimed against media companies for “fake news.” It even forces media companies to remove articles from their websites if they are deemed false. But its standard for “fake news” is ambiguous. Does the government really want the power to check the press, not vice versa?
President Moon recently defined freedom of the press as an essential “pillar to democracy” in a letter to the Journalists Association of Korea. But he kept mum about the stringent media law. His contradictory approach is not in conflict with the bill, said the Blue House. If that’s not a contradiction, what is? Rep. Song Young-gil, DP chairman, and the party’s presidential candidates, including Lee Nak-yon and Chung Sye-kyun, both former prime ministers in the Moon administration, also kept silence.
The PPP’s reaction is also disappointing. Even though it is a minority party in the legislature, it should have demonstrated determination to put the brakes on the bill. Lee Jun-seok, the thirty-something head of the main opposition, simply warned about the “dumping of the frame for co-governance by the DP and the Blue House.”
But they have not reached catastrophe yet. The DP must break out of its habit to only pay heed to its supporters. If it chooses to railroad the bill through the Assembly based on its super-majority, it will leave indelible scars on the freedom of speech — and remove a pivot to democracy.