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WAN-IFRA sides with S. Korean media organizations in opposing changes to media law

By Park Sae-jin Posted : August 12, 2021, 16:42 Updated : August 12, 2021, 16:42

[Courtesy of WAN-IFRA]

SEOUL --  An international association of newspapers and news publishers urged South Korea's ruling camp to retract hastily proposed changes to a media law that would impose greater punitive damages on media companies for what are deemed as malicious false reporting or fake news. The proposed revision sparked a strong backlash from media organizations which expressed concern about the risk of silencing critical journalism and harming South Korea's democratic traditions.

In a public statement sent to the Korean Association of Newspapers on August 12, the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) voiced strong reservations about the procedure followed by the Seoul government and the haste with which it plans to legislate against a complex and worrying societal phenomenon. WAN-IFRA is a non-governmental organization that represents more than 18,000 publications globally.

WAN-IFRA expressed concern about any attempt to determine the criteria characterizing the intention to publish "fake news," saying this would inevitably lead to abuses of interpretation that are detrimental to the freedom to inform. The association warned that the risk of over-regulation is extremely disturbing and could infringe on the freedom of the press guaranteed by South Korea's constitution.

"This kind of regulation, promoted by some of the world's most authoritarian regimes, is often an expedient tool used to silence criticism of political and economic power and thus undermines press freedom," said WAN-IFRA CEO Vincent Peyregne.

Peyregne sided with a coalition of six media organizations in South Korea. "If this change were to go ahead, the South Korean government would be joining the worst authoritarian regimes tempted by reforms of the same order, which are in fact designed to curb free critical discussion."

The ruling Democratic Party is poised to railroad a related bill through a plenary session of the National Assembly in August. The revision can impose punitive damages up to five times the amount of damage caused by false reports and contains a clause that sets a lower limit on the amount of compensation to about one-thousandth of sales by a media organ. In addition, it should be published in the same amount and size as the original report when a corrected report is made.

South Korean media organizations denounced the revision as unconstitutional and insisted that the amended law can be abused to define critical articles as "malicious reports."

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