The Korea Herald


Debate continues on controversial media bill

Ruling party could push bill for final vote on its own while opposition stages filibuster

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : Sept. 29, 2021 - 14:32

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Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon (right) and Yun Ho-jung (left), floor leaders of the People Power Party and Democratic Party, respectively, greets each other during a meeting chaired by National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug (center) on Wednesday. (National Assembly Pess Corps) Reps. Kim Gi-hyeon (right) and Yun Ho-jung (left), floor leaders of the People Power Party and Democratic Party, respectively, greets each other during a meeting chaired by National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug (center) on Wednesday. (National Assembly Pess Corps)
Rival parties continue to clash over a controversial media bill that faces criticism for potentially undermining the freedom of press, signaling a chance for the ruling party to unilaterally use its dominant position in the legislative branch to pass the bill on a final vote.

Floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and main opposition People Power Party met Wednesday morning for a meeting chaired by National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug where they discussed making amendments to the proposed legislative revision of the media arbitration act.

The meeting ended unsuccessfully, with the floor leaders agreeing to meet again at 4 p.m. for another round of negotiations. The result of the meeting was not available as of press time, but it was expected that compromise would be difficult to achieve, as the two parties are miles apart on key issues.

The “fake news” bill was originally planned to be voted through during a plenary meeting in late August, but the ruling party walked back from the plan after facing threats of a filibuster from the People Power Party and constitutional complaints from media organizations.

The rival parties since then formed a committee composed of lawmakers from each party and experts to revise details of the bill, but little progress was made toward an agreement.

The legislative proposal pushed by the ruling party is aimed at imposing greater penalties on journalists and media outlets for creating and spreading “fake news” with “malicious intent,” and it has been in bipartisan negotiations for a month due to fierce opposition.

The bill faced immense criticism from opposition parties and media organizations, partly for its potential to silence criticism of the ruling party and the government ahead of elections next year. Media organizations denounced the bill for undermining freedom of the press and democratic values.

The parties reportedly agreed on removing the clause of mandating enforcement of punitive damages of up to five times the current amount on media outlets found guilty of spreading “fake news” with “malicious intent.” They reached consensus to introduce alternative means to enforce greater penalties.

But the talk has stalled over whether victims of fake news can demand relevant media reports be removed. The ruling party insisted on keeping the clause while the People Power Party demanded it be completely deleted.

Debate has also ensued without any meaningful progress on whether to give victims the right to demand corrections on problematic media reports.

And as such talks remain in place without much progress, the ruling party hinted it will unilaterally push the bill through a final vote and have it enacted with its sheer dominance in the legislative branch. The Democratic Party effectively controls 180 out of 300 seats within the National Assembly.

“I believe the ruling and opposition parties discussed enough on the controversial ‘fake news’ bill,” said Rep. Song Young-gil, head of the Democratic Party, in a meeting Wednesday morning.

“It is a basic principle of democracy to put a matter to a vote when agreement is not reached even after doing due diligence.”

Democratic Party Floor Leader Rep. Yun Ho-jung also insisted that the ruling party had devoted enough time to uphold the demands of opposition parties and media organizations, emphasizing that Wednesday is effectively the last day to determine the fate of the bill.

The People Power Party warned of staging a filibuster again if the media bill were listed for a vote at the plenary session without any deal reached between the rival parties. Party officials said a unilateral push from the ruling party is a serious threat to democracy.

“If the Democratic Party takes care of the media arbitration bill today with problematic clauses included as it is right now, that certainly is a unilateral movement,” said Yang Joon-woo, chief spokesperson for the People Power Party, in a statement Wednesday.

“The People Power Party will continue to take part in negotiations, but if the ruling party seeks to push the bill for the final vote on its own, we will stage a filibuster to protect the freedom of the press.”

A filibuster is expected to postpone the final vote of the bill, but would not be enough to ultimately stop the bill from going to a vote, as there are not enough lawmakers to realistically continue the nonstop discussion until the end date of this year’s regular parliamentary period set for Dec. 9.