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Justice Ministry to ban reporters for false stories

The Ministry of Justice said Wednesday that it will ban reporters from the prosecution’s premises if they are found to have reported false stories on an ongoing investigation.

Pressroom at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office (Yonhap)
Pressroom at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office (Yonhap)

Effective December after a trial run in November, the new internal regulation also prohibits prosecutors and their aides from speaking with reporters about investigations that are underway. Instead, a designated public relations officer will release press statements upon the media’s request.

The latest announcement on prosecution reforms earlier promised by President Moon Jae-in has drawn strong opposition from reporters on the prosecution beat.

The ministry defends the new measure as a way of protecting the human rights of the accused and those around the accused, including prosecutors. However, reporters question the criteria for a “false story” and the grounds on which the Justice Ministry is attempting to block their access to ongoing investigations.

Reporters have criticized the directive as being at odds with the public’s right to know and with the principle of press freedom.

Legal and media experts agree. “On a case concerning a public figure, government officials for instance, reporters should be able to report on it from angles of their choice. If not, are we to jot down whatever the prosecutors tell us to write?” said Cha Jina, a professor of constitutional law at Korea University.

“This is a violation of the freedom of the press, and further, the public’s right to know,” she added.

Media professionals also weighed in on the importance of the public’s right to know.

“Prosecutors talk about protecting the rights of the accused -- yes, I agree. But if the accused are public figures, the public’s right to know sometimes comes first,” said Kim Seong-cheol, a professor of media and communications at Korea University.

Under the new rules, prosecutors are not allowed to reveal the allegations faced by the accused.

The Justice Ministry said prosecutors and reporters could discuss what constitutes a false story, and perhaps come up with standards to distinguish false stories from “correct” ones.

It also added that managing prosecutors at each prosecutors’ office will make the decision to ban certain reporters from the premises if they file false reports on investigations.

However, reporters remain skeptical, as prosecutors may arbitrarily categorize a reporter’s story as false and use that to block press access to high-profile cases.

By Choi Si-young (