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South Korea 30 June 2006

Reporters Without Borders welcomes a supreme court ruling on newspaper law

Reporters Without Borders welcomed a South Korean supreme court decision which ruled as unconstitutional some articles of the law on the press and on media arbitration.

"We expressed our fears after the adoption of this controversial law. We are reassured by the supreme court decision which is based on the crucial and absolute protection of press freedom,” the international press freedom organisation said.

“We call on the deputies of the ruling party and the government to definitively withdraw the draconian articles in the law,” it added.

On 29 June 2006, the constitutional court blocked the application of some measures in the Act Governing the Guarantee of Freedom and Functions of Newspapers which had been adopted by parliament on 1st January 2005. This verdict follows an appeal lodged by the leading conservative South Korean newspapers. The government announced on the same day that it would respect the verdict.

The judges voted by seven to two that the law sought by the ruling Uri party was contrary to press freedom and business freedom, guaranteed by the constitution, in that they limited the market share a newspaper could obtain.

“We don’t see any particular danger, because readers can freely decide which newspaper they want to read,” said the judges. Currently, the three conservative dailies, Chosun Ilbo, Dong-a Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo account for more than 70 % of the written press market. Chosun Ilbo alone has 30 % of the readership.

In the same way, parliament will have to amend an article of the law which banned newspaper owners from holding more than 50% of the shares in another print or electronic media.

On the other hand, the supreme court confirmed the validity of the articles which oblige media to provide more transparent information about their financial activities and particularly on their revenue from advertising. The right of individuals to demand corrections in the press was also confirmed.

In July 2005, Reporters Without Borders had said it was closely watching how the law on newspapers would be applied. The organisation particularly expressed reservations on the vague concept of the “social responsibility” of the media, included in Articles 4 and 5.

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