Backpedaling on a promise
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The brain of a politician must have a special language translation function that even artificial intelligence cannot mimic. This mysterious algorithm incessantly measures political gain and loss in their head. But what comes out of their mouths is always disguised in honorable causes. The translating mechanism specializes in beautifying selfish political interests with plausible causes. Sometimes it errs through rough and straightforward translation to betray the real intention.
Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Song Young-gil made the slip of the tongue while explaining on the need for a draconian revision to the Media Arbitration Act. He snapped at the protesting opposition party lawmakers, asking if they really wanted to remain in the opposition forever. Song would have regretted not having bitten his tongue, as he was more or less admitting that the revised bill serves the ruling party. Even if everyone knew the truth, they’re not supposed to say it. Song’s remark could suggest that the amendment was motivated by political reasons instead of the claimed cause of protecting human rights and helping victims.
Another reason for the political motivation is that the bill goes against the very promises Moon Jae-in made on freedom of expression during his presidential campaign four years ago, despite little change in the media environment. Moon promised that freedom of expression, especially online, would be preserved in his campaign platform booklet. Since newspaper and broadcasting items are available on the internet, the platform is the same as a promise on press freedom.
Moon also vowed to improve a telecommunications network operator’s unilateral actions that can hurt freedom of expression and the defense rights of individual postings. That means he will work to stop site operators from unilaterally removing or blocking items posted by individuals. But the DP included the right to block access to certain posts in the revised bill. When all the regulations go into effect, the measures would amount to “media-gagging.”
The UN human rights body and foreign press organizations have expressed deep concerns about the bill’s apparent infringement on freedom of the press. Yet only the DP remains oblivious. Its lawmakers should read the 2018 book “How Democracies Die” co-authored by Harvard Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They offer 15 specific questions as a litmus test to identify potential autocratic characteristics in elected political leaders. Any positive behavioral sign would make the candidate potentially fall in the authoritarian path. Among U.S. presidents since the 20th century, only Richard Nixon tested positive. The authors believed Donald Trump also showed similar traits of an authoritarian leader.
If the two scholars’ question samples are applied to the DP’s media bill, the party will test positive. It will surely test positive to the question “Have you ever supported laws and policies that suppress civil rights?” or “Have you ever threatened rival political parties, civic organizations or the media with legal actions?” The test score would fall on President Moon Jae-in. International society is closely watching as the matter cannot be ignored in the eyes of the world’s democracies.