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Final vote for “fake news” bill pushed back again from fierce opposition

Ruling party walks back from its plan and suggests forming a parliamentary committee

Rep. Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, walks out of the office of National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug after finishing a meeting with his counterpart from the main opposition People Power Party to discuss the controversial media bill. (National Assembly Press Corps)
Rep. Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, walks out of the office of National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug after finishing a meeting with his counterpart from the main opposition People Power Party to discuss the controversial media bill. (National Assembly Press Corps)
The ruling party walked back from its plan to put a controversial media bill for a final vote in face of strong opposition and stalled negotiations with the opposition bloc on Wednesday.

The Democratic Party of Korea said in a press briefing on Wednesday evening that its senior party officials decided to give up trying to put the media bill up for a final vote at Wednesday’s plenary session of the National Assembly, the last one to be held in September.

“We ruled that it would be difficult to put the media arbitration act up for a final vote today,” said Koh Yong-jin, a spokesperson for the ruling party, adding that party officials are now suggesting forming a special parliamentary committee to discuss the bill.

Koh said the committee would discuss the controversial media bill jointly with three other bills concerning media organizations and journalistic practices.

Additional details on forming the parliamentary committee would be available after floor leaders of the ruling party and main opposition People Power Party convene for a meeting in the later hours of Wednesday.

It is believed that the ruling party, with its sheer dominance in the legislative branch, gave up on its plan to unilaterally pass the bill Wednesday as the party is keen on maintaining support for the party and its presidential contenders ahead of next year’s presidential election.

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.

Ruling party members have voiced concerns that unilaterally passing the bill against fierce opposition from media organizations and the opposition bloc could negatively impact their appeal to voters.

It is the second time the ruling party walked back from its plan to pass the bill through the final vote.

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.

And as talks remain in place without much progress, the ruling party hinted earlier Wednesday it will unilaterally push the bill through a final vote and have it enacted early next year.

The Democratic Party effectively controls 180 out of 300 seats within the National Assembly. This means that the ruling party can easily pass any bill that it supports, if unified action among its lawmakers is guaranteed.

The People Power Party denounced ruling party’s plan, again warning that it would stage a filibuster if the media bill were to be listed for a final vote in absence of deal reached between the rival parties. The filibuster would have postponed the vote for a number of days but ultimately fail to stop the bill from being voted on.

Discussion on the bill will not be realistically possible to continue until the regular parliamentary period of this year ends on Dec. 9 as scheduled.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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