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Human rights groups call for revising media bill

In this file photo, lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party shout slogans during a rally at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 30, 2021, to call for the ruling Democratic Party to stop the enactment of a controversial media bill fiercely contested by opposition parties and media industry trade groups. The ruling party had pushed ahead with a plan to put to a final vote at a plenary session of parliament the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration and Remedies, Etc. for Damage Caused by Press Reports, which critics say will threaten people's right to know and discourage the press' checks on power. (Yonhap)
In this file photo, lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party shout slogans during a rally at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 30, 2021, to call for the ruling Democratic Party to stop the enactment of a controversial media bill fiercely contested by opposition parties and media industry trade groups. The ruling party had pushed ahead with a plan to put to a final vote at a plenary session of parliament the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration and Remedies, Etc. for Damage Caused by Press Reports, which critics say will threaten people's right to know and discourage the press' checks on power. (Yonhap)
Human Rights Watch and three other human rights organizations have sent a joint letter to President Moon Jae-in and the National Assembly calling for the revision of a media bill accused of undermining press freedom.

The legislation calls for punitive damages up to five times more than usual if a media outlet is found guilty of running false or manipulated news reports. Critics argue that it could be used to silence critical media.

The letter points out that the bill defines "false or manipulated news" in very vague terms that are "incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression."

Expressions like "'information manipulated to be construed as fact' are particularly vague and could be used to penalize opinion pieces, satire or parody," the letter said.

"Vague laws that confer excessive discretion can lead to arbitrary decision-making and are incompatible with international protections for freedom of expression," it said.

It also criticized the bill for its ambiguity in the language describing circumstances that can be subject to heavy punitive damages, such as when the news report causes "emotional distress" or "infringes on personality rights."

Recommending a thorough revision of the bill, the rights groups called for the removal of the vague expressions used in the amendment. (Yonhap)

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