International Listing of Korea For Press Curbs Held 'Bias'

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International Listing of Korea For Press Curbs Held 'Bias'

The ruling Millennium Democratic Party protested strongly Friday against the International Press Institute's placing of South Korea on its "watch list" of countries where press freedom is endangered.

"You should not look at the Korean press situation with bias," chairman Kim Joong-kwon said, as a three-member fact-finding team from the institute and the World Association of Newspapers paid a visit to the party. "It is regrettable that you have placed South Korea on the 'watch list' prior to completing the fact-finding mission."

Johann Fritz, director of the institute called that complaint "a misunderstanding." His institute had been looking into the matter since the National Tax Service began an investigation of the finances of national media companies, he said, adding that the magnitude of the tax assessments - 506 billion won ($388 million) against 23 companies - was enough to ruin a medium-sized firm.

Roger Parkinson, president of the World Association of Newspapers, said that the government's move to limit an individual's ownership stake in a newspaper company to 30 percent could compromise newspaper independence.

The delegation arrived in Seoul Wednesday. On Thursday, it visited the three detained newspaper owners, Bang Sang-hoon, president of the Chosun Ilbo, Kim Byung-kwan, former chairman of the Dong-a Ilbo, and Cho Hee-jun, president of Kookmin Ilbo, at the Seoul Penitentiary in Uiwang.

At its Friday press conference in Seoul, the delegation said that the International Press Institute's board had decided last week to put South Korea on the "IPI Watch List."

But another three-member delegation, from the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, took the government's side.

"Reform of the Korean press is an imminent task that should not be delayed," said Chris Warren, chairman of the federation. "We have confirmed that the Korean press work in an environment where general freedom is ensured."

by Kim Jung-ha

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