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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 11)

All News 07:07 September 11, 2020

Don't control media
:Lawmaker hit for disregarding press freedom

A ruling party lawmaker has triggered controversy over his mobile messenger conversation that could undermine the freedom of the press. Rep. Yoon Young-chan of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is now under fire from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) as well as the public.

The episode occurred Tuesday after a media camera captured a screenshot of Yoon exchanging messages with his aide through Telegram. At that time he was attending a National Assembly plenary session while PPP floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young was giving a speech. In the messages, Yoon was angry about internet portal Daum for placing news about Joo's speech on its main news page.

Rep. Yoon must have been displeased with Joo's address because it was critical of the Moon administration and its policies. But he should have refrained from taking it out on Daum. Regrettably, Yoon instructed his aide to "complain sternly to Kakao" about the matter, referring to Kakao Corp. which runs Daum. Then he said, "Kakao is going too far. Call them in."

In the face of a strong backlash from PPP members, Yoon explained his messages were only intended to question Daum's fairness because the portal did not post news about DPK Chairman Lee Nak-yon's speech on its main page Monday. However, he only verified that he had made the unreasonable complaint. In fact, Daum had placed news about Lee's speech on its main page as it did with Joo's.

There is little room for anyone to call into question whether Daum's news compiling policy is fair or not. As Kakao immediately made it clear, no one can influence the portal's news layout because artificial intelligence has been totally in charge of news compilation since 2015. Yoon might have known that because he worked as vice president of Naver, the country's largest internet portal, before he became senior presidential press secretary in 2017. Prior to this, he had been a journalist at an influential local daily.

As a member of the National Assembly Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee, Yoon knows better than anyone else about what to do and what not to do with the media and internet portals. Yet, the episode with Kakao shows his blatant disregard for freedom of the press. He must have been trying to control, or at least tame, the media by censoring news on portal sites. Moreover, his messages are full of arrogance and self-righteousness, possibly stemming from the governing party's unilateral legislating process based on its supermajority.

The reverberating controversy is raising the specter of the military junta's suppression of press freedom 40 years ago. It also reminds people of former lawmaker Lee Jung-hyun who was found guilty of pressuring the state-run KBS not to air reports on the 2014 tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol which killed more than 300 passengers, mostly high school students.

Previous governments made systematic efforts to tame the media in a bid to tighten their grip on power. But under no circumstances can and should any attempt to put a gag on the press be justified. The Moon Jae-in administration should fully guarantee press freedom ― one of the key elements of a democracy.

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