Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its opposition to some of the provisions of a new press law, the Act Governing the Guarantee of Freedom and Functions of Newspapers, which is due to take effect tomorrow and which will restrict free enterprise in the print media.
"We have received undertakings from the South Korean government that this law will not be used to silence critical news media, but we will nonetheless be extremely vigilant about the way it is implemented," the press freedom organisation said. Parliament approved the law on 1 January.
In a decree applying it, the government has added a new provision urging newspapers to set up internal "editing committees" consisting of management and staff representatives. Although newspapers are not obliged to comply, the possibility of getting government aid could be conditioned on the existence of such committees.
Proposed by the ruling Uri party last October, the law is billed as a progressive reform of South Korea’s print media but contains articles that could jeopardise free enterprise within the sector. The concept of news media "social responsibility" in articles 4 and 5 is also very vague and could be used by the authorities against independent media.
Reporters Without Borders is aware that a monopoly or oligopoly is not desirable for diversity of news and information, but South Koreans have a wide range of news sources in addition to the traditional daily newspapers and the organisation thinks it would have been better to help small publications rather than take on the big dailies.
The new law stipulates that no newspaper may control more than 30 per cent of the market and that the three leading dailies may not control more than 60 per cent. It also limits to 50 per cent the space each paper may give to advertising, on the threat of a fine of 20 million wons (more than 14,000 euros).
The three conservative dailies, Chosun Ilbo, Dong-a Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo, currently have 70 per cent of the daily newspaper market. Chosun Ilbo alone has more than 30 per cent of the market.
The law also obliges each press group to set up another internal committee to protect readers’ rights. These committees would allow readers to challenge a publication if they think its coverage is not "objective."
The ruling party additionally sought to establish a single distribution system for the dailies in an effort to stop the fierce competition between them for subscribers.
Finally, article 12 (1) of the new law requires online newspapers to register with the authorities.