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[Newsmaker] Ruling party forges ahead with “fake news” law despite opposition

The National Assembly’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee deliberates on the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The National Assembly’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee deliberates on the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration on Tuesday. (Yonhap)


South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party is poised to push ahead with the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration, despite resistance from opposition parties and the media.

The Act on Press Arbitration aims to mediate disputes over media reports that infringe on people’s rights, interests or reputations. The ruling party recently proposed a revised bill that would further toughen consequences for false reports, including the introduction of punitive damages.

Under the revised law, if the media damaged someone’s property, infringed on personal rights or caused mental distress due to false or manipulated reports, either on purpose or because of gross negligence, they would be liable for up to five times the actual damages the victims incurred.

While the Democratic Party says its goal is to protect people from becoming victims of fake news, opposition parties and the media say the bill would weaken the media’s watchdog role.

The bill in its original form would also have allowed high-ranking officials and executives of large corporations to claim damages for malicious false or manipulated reports. But in response to concerns, the ruling party stepped back Thursday and excluded them.

The Democratic Party, which holds a majority of seats, aims to have the approval of the standing committee on Thursday and pass the bill at the plenary session Aug. 25.

The nation’s main opposition People Power Party will seek to prevent the bill’s passage by forming an agenda coordination committee. It also plans to hold a general meeting in front of Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday and urge its withdrawal.

The progressive Justice Party said last week that it would oppose the bill if it passed the standing committee and were put before the plenary session.

Floor spokesperson Lee Eun-joo said the Act on Press Arbitration provided a means for powerful groups to shield themselves from criticism and there were concerns that constitutional freedom of expression and speech would be restricted.

Four media organizations -- the Journalists Association of Korea, the Korea Broadcasting Journalist Association, the Korea Producers and Directors Association and the National Union of Media Workers -- released a joint statement on Friday opposing the bill.

“The Democratic Party’s amendment to the Press Arbitration Act is likely to lead directly to media control and infringement of freedom of speech, far from damage relief,” the statement said.

The World Association of News Publishers joined them in urging the Korean government and the Democratic Party to withdraw the bill immediately.

“This kind of regulation, promoted by some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, is often an expedient tool used to silence criticism of political and economic power and thus undermines press freedom,” said WAN-IFRA CEO Vincent Peyregne in a statement Thursday.

“If this change were to go ahead, the South Korean government would be joining the worst authoritarian regimes tempted by reforms of the same order, which are in fact designed to curb free critical discussion,” he said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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