A damning letterThe United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has expressed deep concerns about a highly controversial revision to the Media Arbitration Act being pushed by the ruling Democratic Party (DP). In a letter to the Moon Jae-in administration, the special rapporteur pointed out that if the revised bill is passed by the legislature without further revision, it will seriously restrict the people’s rights to know and their freedom of speech. Special rapporteur Irene Khan also warned that the bill will critically damage public trust in the press. In particular, she worried about a poisonous clause of the bill enforcing punitive damages of up to five times damages claimed against media companies for “fake news,” among other things, because the standards are “very ambiguous.”
The letter shows how this bill has become an international issue. The letter arrived after a local human rights group sent a petition to the United Nations’ special rapporteur last month. The details of the four-page letter from Khan are intense. She made it clear that the Moon administration is responsible for protecting the freedom of expression after Korea became a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Her comment that the government’s alleged goal of combating “fake news” cannot justify an act of restricting the freedom of speech clearly shows a wide gap between the UN body and the DP.
It turned out that the Moon administration has received letters on Korea’s human rights situation as many as 23 times since it took power in 2017. The conservative Lee Myun-bak administration received such letters 12 times and the Park Geun-hye administration 13 times. Though the letter is not binding, the Moon administration must not dismiss the problem with its usual nonchalance. The DP already received a letter from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea when it railroaded through a bill banning the dispatch of anti-North leaflets across the border. The special rapporteur worried about the apparent restriction of the freedom of speech and negative impact on human rights activists’ movements. The DP must not ignore this letter from the special rapporteur even though a vote on the contentious bill has been delayed for a month. It is not the time for the DP to form a consultative body with the opposition to simply polish the wording of a bill. In this case, it is time to scrap the bill once and for all. Otherwise, Moon will be remembered as a president who oppressed human rights even as an ex-human rights lawyer, and brought the condemnation of human rights specialists at the United Nations down on Korea.