[Free Press Forum] We Fear for 'Media Hegemony' by Politicians and Corporations
[Free Press Forum] We Fear for 'Media Hegemony' by Politicians and Corporations
  • Statement- Free Press Forum
  • 승인 2023.06.13 09:27
  • 수정 2023.06.13 09:27
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Political battles over the press direction escalate... Companies use advertising as a weapon to sway media management
Crackingdown on Media. /Yonhap
Crackingdown on Media. /Yonhap

[Free Press Forum] Recently, there has been a growing concern about the press in Korean.

Political parties are escalating the controversy over the direction of newspapers and broadcasting. Articles that do not fit their interests are being framed as "fake news" and pushed into a fairness debate.

Also, the number of companies trying to use advertising as a weapon to influence the management and reporting of news organizations is increasing.

Korea's 47th place out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index released last month by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reflects this concerning situation. Korea's ranking dropped four places from last year.

The revenue of the Korean press relies heavily on advertising, and it directly or indirectly influences editorial decisions. More and more media outlets are being acquired by companies from industries other than journalism, creating the potential for conflicts of interest, RSF said.

International media organizations are also concerned that journalists can be sentenced to jail for defamation. It is not uncommon in other countries for journalists to omit key details of a story including the names of individuals or companies when reporting, but in Korea, journalists have too little a wiggle room.

Lawsuits against the press have been steadily increasing in recent years.

Article 307 (Defamation) of the Criminal Act provides that (1) a person who defames another by publicly alleging facts shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than two years or a fine not exceeding five million won and (2) a person who defames another by publicly alleging false facts shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications for not more than ten years, or a fine not exceeding ten million won.

In addition, the defamation by publication provision (Article 309) states that a person who commits the crime of Article 307 (1), by means of newspaper, magazine, radio, or other publication with intent to defame another, shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than three years or by a fine not exceeding seven million won.

Of course, the Criminal Act states that such acts are not punishable if they are bona fide truth and solely in the public interest (Article 310), but the term "public interest" is controversial.

In order for defamation to be established, it must be public and propagatable, state a fact (factual defamation) or a false fact (false statement defamation), defame a person's reputation, and be intentional.

This means that defamation can be established when a person knowingly and intentionally makes a false or misleading statement of a fact to defame another person or an organization. However, the issue of being intentional alone has been the subject of much debate.
Particularly as awareness of freedom of expression has increased with the development of communications technology, there has been growing criticism of the criminalization of defamation. Defamation is in fact being abolished around the world.

In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, defamation is only established in a false statement of a fact.

In the US, defamation is considered a civil offense and not a criminal offense. Following the landmark case of Garrison vs Louisiana, where the Louisiana libel statute was declared unconstitutional, half of all US jurisdictions including New York, California, Illinois, and Texas have either invalidated or willingly abolished criminal libel laws.

The UN Special Rapporteur has advised the Korean government to eliminate the crime of defamation from its Criminal Act.

Fake news must end, but it must do so through the self-policing function of the press. In addition, attempts to gag the media with advertising as a weapon by companies that have a lot to hide must disappear.

Singapore, which has been criticized for using libel laws as a tool to crack down on critics of the regime, and China, which has been accused of using the press as a bullhorn for the regime, should be lessons to Korea.

When the press is stifled, dictatorship, lawlessness, and expedient will arise. A democracy without the press is a democracy without a foundation.

When the press fails to do its job, history goes backwards.

/ Park Jung-kyu, Chairman, Free Press Forum (CEO of Wikileaks Korea)




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