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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Aug. 30)

All News 07:08 August 30, 2021

Build a social consensus first

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) has been preparing to pass a highly controversial revision to the Media Arbitration Act in a full session of the National Assembly on Monday. The DP must stop its reckless push for the revised bill that enforces a penalty of up to five times the alleged damage caused by reporting, among other things. If the DP presses ahead with it, the opposition People Power Party (PPP) plans to thwart the move with a filibuster. However, if the bill is automatically submitted to a full vote on Sept. 1 — the first day of the regular session of the legislature — according to the National Assembly Act, the opposition has no other means to block the passage of the bill.

Problems with the revised bill were already confirmed in a meeting the DP held to gather support. In its briefing to more than 30 foreign correspondents in Korea, many pointed questions were raised. Some of the journalists asked, "Why is the DP pushing the bill when 99 percent of press organizations in Korea and overseas apparently oppose it?" Others asked, "Does the bill aim at the conservative media critical of the government?" and "Why were the single-person media companies excluded from the bill?"

Lee Bu-young — a former lawmaker and journalist who was imprisoned after calling for lifting emergency measures and the freedom of the press during the past military governments — strongly criticized the DP in a retrial on his case Friday. Lee, current chair of the board of directors of the Korea Foundation for Press Freedom, said the final ruling can serve as a warning against the DP's attempt to gag the press. "The ruling forces repeatedly champion the freedom of the press, but they are betraying themselves now with the revision," he said. "If the DP railroads the bill through the legislature, it will have to face huge national resistance. Does the DP want to follow in the footsteps of the previous government?"

The DP must take part in an "apparatus for social consensus" proposed by five major press organizations, including the Journalists Association of Korea and the National Union of Media Workers, to draw an agreement on the draconian restrictions on press freedom. The five media organizations also proposed the establishment of an autonomous regulatory body.

Rep. Song Young-gil, head of the DP, has turned hardline after showing a moderate position on the issue. He spurred controversy by attacking Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for issuing a stern statement without "knowing what's going on here." The DP will likely pass the bill regardless of advice from Kim Young-choon, a former lawmaker and government minister in the Moon Jae-in administration.

"The move could deal a blow to our democracy. It's like burning the house to kill fleas," Kim said.

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