The Ministry of Justice admitted Friday that it had not properly consulted media and other relevant bodies before announcing its recent directive restricting media access and imposing sanctions on journalists for “false reporting.”
On Wednesday, the Justice Ministry issued a set of press guidelines that would expel reporters from the prosecution press corps if they are found to have reported “false stories.”
The ministry also said it would bar reporters from speaking directly to prosecutors or investigators. Communication with the press would be done through designated public relations officials.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Justice Ministry official confirmed to The Korea Herald that the coverage ban was not included in the draft proposals the ministry sent out to the press corps, and that the guidelines were decided and announced without properly seeking consultation with them.
He acknowledged the ministry was not able to collect opinions from all concerned parties, either.
Journalist groups, legal circles and opposition lawmakers lambasted the Justice Ministry’s guidelines as an attack on press freedom.
In a statement released Thursday, the Journalists Association of Korea said the Justice Ministry should “retract at once its attempts to control the media.”
“Under the new guidelines, the press will be incapacitated from acting as the watchdog of the investigative authorities,” it read.
The Korean Bar Association’s chief spokesperson Hur Yoon refuted the ministry’s earlier claims that it had reached the decision to implement the press guidelines “upon consultation with relevant parties.”
Hur told The Korea Herald that the association did receive a draft of the guidelines from the Justice Ministry, but it was not given the chance to submit a response before it was announced.
“While parts of the new regulations, such as one prohibiting release of criminal suspicions, may encourage media to comply better with the principle of presumption of innocence, institutions that should have had input in the ministry’s decision -- including the bar association -- have been left out in the process,” he said.
Hur added that the draft the bar association received did not include the clause barring reporters access for reporting “false stories,” which he said could impede press freedom.
A Justice Ministry correspondent at a local daily told The Korea Herald the statement the ministry sent out to the justice press corps did not stipulate the reporting restrictions, either.
“The guidelines will restrict coverage of ongoing probes and allow the investigative agencies to decide the extent to which the media will have access to information,” the reporter said.
“What would be considered a ‘false story’ is also elusive,” he said, adding, “The timing is suspicious, too, just as a subpoena for (former justice minister) Cho Kuk imminent.”
The Justice Ministry press corps on Wednesday submitted a note asking the ministry to “scrap (the guidelines) and apologize for its reporting instructions immediately.”
Some outlets said they would refuse to observe the ministry-set guidelines.
One newspaper, announcing its objection, said, “the Justice Ministry’s measures, if not revoked, will live on in infamy as the Moon Jae-in administration’s greatest misjudgment.”
The press corps said its delegates will speak with the Justice Vice Minister Kim Oh-soo Friday afternoon.
During a National Assembly meeting Friday morning, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party floor leader Na Kyung-won said the Justice Ministry regulations were “a retaliatory measure” against what happened to the former justice minister.
The lawmaker said the ministry’s regulations were a “clampdown on the free press,” and that they reflected the current administration’s view of the media.
“The prosecutorial reform is about increasing transparency of the prosecution, not evading the eyes of the media,” Na told The Korea Herald.
By Kim Arin (email@example.com