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UN rapporteur voices concern media bill would hurt S.Korea's reputation on press freedom

UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan speaks during a media briefing with South Korean news outlets in this image captured from Zoom on Friday. (Yonhap)
UN Special Rapporteur Irene Khan speaks during a media briefing with South Korean news outlets in this image captured from Zoom on Friday. (Yonhap)
A South Korean media bill under criticism for potentially undermining press freedom, if passed, could give a "negative message" to the world about the country's stance on freedom of media, a UN expert said Friday.

Irene Khan, a UN special rapporteur on promoting the right to freedom of expression, made the remark during a virtual press briefing, weeks after she sent a letter to the Seoul government calling for a revision of the bill.

The legislation, titled Press Arbitration Act, 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 the bill could be used to silence critical media.

"I am afraid that if this amendment is adopted with this kind of disproportionate punishment being placed on the media, it will send a negative message to others around the world who are looking to Korea as a role model," Khan said at the briefing, noting that Korea has been a leading UN member country participating in efforts to protect press freedom and journalists.

"I would urge the Korean parliament to keep in mind also not only the domestic impact of this legislation but the international impact and to continue to be a leader in this area of supporting media freedom."

As for the revision, Khan called for some of the clauses in the draft law to be "removed or carefully reconsidered," such as the part on excessive punitive damages or the vague language about what defines "untrue information."

"Those elements are seriously detrimental to freedom of expression. Tinkering along the edges and changing a little word here or there will not serve the purpose," she said.

Khan said that whether the parliament will discard the provision on punitive damages will be a test as to whether "serious and fundamental change will be made" to the amendment. On Thursday, the ruling Democratic Party said it plans to put the bill to a plenary vote next Monday,

"What is needed now is very careful reconsideration not to rush through this amendment ... and to take time they need to consider this issue very carefully in consultation with all stakeholders." Khan said. (Yonhap)
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