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KOREA: Foreign watchdog hits out at Seoul over media bills

The International Press Institute disagrees with two recently passed bills restricting South Korean press freedoms

The Straits Times
Saturday, January 15, 2005

By Lee Tee Jong

Two controversial media Bills passed recently to restrict the South Korean press have come under fire from a foreign media watchdog.
In an open letter to President Roh Moo Hyun early this week, the International Press Institute (IPI) urged him not to endorse the Bill which, among other things, restricts the market share of an individual newspaper to 30 per cent and the combined share of the top three papers to 60 per cent.

The other Bill makes it easier for victims or third parties to obtain compensation for damaging news reports through the Press Arbitration Commission.

The legislation will come into force on July 1 after the president signs it into law.

Observers said that President Roh, who has long been at odds with the major dailies, is likely to approve the Bills.

IPI director Johann Fritz said: 'These Bills were hurriedly passed through the legislature with little discussion on their merits. This will negatively impact South Korea as a democratic nation.'

A bipartisan group of 133 lawmakers - slightly less than half of the 299-strong parliament - passed the Bills about two weeks ago, after the ruling Uri Party compromised on some clauses with the main opposition Grand National Party.

The Uri Party touted the Bills as necessary, given the 'highly public nature of the press'.

But critics see them as an attempt to control the three major dailies - Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo and Joong Ang Ilbo - which have been highly critical of the ruling party and the government's reform policies.

Two months ago, IPI had called the then proposed legislation a 'politically-inspired' attempt to beat down the media, intrude upon editorial independence and create a compliant press.

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies media studies Professor Kim Soo Hun said: 'The Bills are a useful weapon in the government's arsenal against the press, which has undermined their reform plans time and again.'

Under the revised Bills, 138 nationally distributed newspapers will be targeted, instead of the 11 national dailies initially focused on in the original proposal.

This means that the market share of the three major dailies now accounts for only 44 per cent, instead of 68 per cent, which would have made them liable for a fine amounting to 3 per cent of sales.

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