Civic groups look to UN for help withdrawing proposed media bill

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Civic groups look to UN for help withdrawing proposed media bill

Korean civic groups on Tuesday submitted a petition to the United Nations expressing concern that a new media bill, which would impose a fivefold increase in penalties on media outlets that release false or fraudulent reports, represents a serious infringement on freedom of expression in Korea.
 
The Korean branch of the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) and lawyer Ryu Je-hwa of the Yeomin Joint Law Offices filed a petition to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, asking that the international body express its opinion over “legitimate concerns” regarding the Korean government’s revised Press Arbitration Act.
 
In their petition, the civic groups argued that the new bill would violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Iccpr).
 
The TJWG further argued that should the bill pass into law, it could possibly lead to infringements on freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to a fair and impartial trial.
 
The revised Press Arbitration Act would increase legal liability for the release of “intentionally” or “grossly negligent” news reporting up to five times the damages caused by the reporting.
 
The bill has been the subject of a fierce political controversy since it was proposed by ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Kim Yong-min on June 24.
 
While the government and DP characterize the bill as a necessary tool to clamp down on false reporting, or what they refer to as “fake news,” media groups and the opposition People Power Party (PPP) have called it a thinly-veiled and ill-considered attempt to tamp down criticism by the press.
 
The bill was passed by the National Assembly’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee by its DP lawmakers, after a boycott by protesting opposition lawmakers.
 
The ruling party has pushed the bill doggedly in the name of reforming the country’s media against opposition from the PPP, whose members on the Culture Committee have boycotted its meetings, and media groups.
 
The proposed law has just passed the Judiciary and Legislation Committee stage, which conducts a final review of bills before submitting them to the floor for a full parliamentary vote.
  
The bill has come under heavy criticism from media groups, which in a Aug. 19 joint statement called it an “unconstitutional press bill” with the “fundamental intent … to gag the press."
 
Opposition to the bill was also backed by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the International Press Institute (IPI), which called on the Korean government “to retract hastily proposed law changes, designed to curb disinformation, which instead risk silencing critical journalism and harming South Korea's democratic traditions” in a Aug. 12 statement.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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