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Yonhap files complaint against News1 over unlawful distribution of Rodong Sinmun content

National 14:59 March 19, 2019

SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- Yonhap News Agency, South Korea's representative newswire service, said Tuesday it has requested the prosecution investigate News1, a news agency affiliated with the MoneyToday Media group, and its chief executive on charges of violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act.

In the complaint filed with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Monday, Yonhap accused News1 of importing and redistributing articles and photos of North Korea's official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, to newspapers and Internet portal sites between January and March this year without obtaining government approval as required by the law.

News1 was additionally suspected of having unlawfully used or distributed Rodong Sinmun photos and articles obtained through an "unknown route" from March 2017 to December 2018, when Yonhap held the exclusive distribution rights for the newspaper of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party.

This file photo shows the front page of the Rodong Sinmun published in North Korea on March 5, 2019. (Yonhap)

Yonhap said the accusation is based on Section 1 of Article 13 of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, which requires approval from the unification minister regarding items, transaction types and payment methods in the inter-Korean trade of goods. Violators can be punished by imprisonment of less than three years or a fine of less than 30 million won (US$26,500).

Yonhap has been providing Rodong Sinmun's content to its clients since March 2017, when it signed an official contract with Korea Media, the overseas distributor of the North Korean newspaper, with an approval from the unification ministry.

Korea Media based in Tokyo, Japan, terminated its contract with Yonhap News late last year but has so far carried out its distribution contract for Rodong Sinmun content with Yonhap, as News1 has failed to obtain an approval from the government.

The MoneyToday group has reportedly reached a tentative agreement with Korea Media by offering a higher amount of payment than Yonhap, without obtaining government approval.

The complaint filed by Yonhap also pointed out that News1 has used Rodong Sinmun articles and photos without permission from the government on the handling of North Korean content, which is required by the National Intelligence Service Act and other laws. Under the current laws, special content like Rodong Sinmun articles and photos can be handled only with permission from the authorities.

Yonhap said such unlawful imports and distribution of Rodong Sinmun content will not only harm the interests of a specific news organization but also will undermine the order of inter-Korean exchanges and national security.

It also argued News1's alleged irregularities will pose a serious threat to Yonhap's public role of carrying North Korean news content objectively and fairly.

News1, meanwhile, refrained from commenting on its unapproved distribution of Rodong Sinmun content but said it will follow the guidance of the government in the future.

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