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South Korea 18 December 2007

Presidential candidates urged to resolve press room contoversy

Reporters Without Borders has appealed to whichever candidate wins 19 December presidential elections to find a solution to a row over the removal of press rooms from within the country’s ministries.

The administration decided in May 2007, at the initiative of President Roh Moo-hyun, to close most press rooms inside public buildings and construct new ones but journalists were then barred from free access to ministries and major administrative buildings.

The reform was seen as necessary to concentrate official communications in just a few press rooms in the capital, Seoul, Gwacheon and in Daejeon.

The government adopted the new rules under the heading "Steps to develop a modern support system for the media", but they most journalists’ organisations objected to them as an attempt to restrict access to information. Civil servants can no longer speak directly to the press.

The journalists in protest refused to use the new rooms and now ’camp out’ in the corridors of the various administrations.

The authorities on 11 October closed press rooms which had been used for decades within the main administrative buildings. The Internet was cut off and equipment removed.

"The very tense relations between journalists and the authorities following the closure of press rooms is damaging to the work of the media," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"We urge the next president to find a quick and satisfactory solution for everyone to this conflict, which has lasted several months already. The journalists’ requirements should be provided for to the extent that they show a real concern for the public’s right to access official information," it added.

Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders called on the candidates to make public their position on a reform of Article 7 of the national security law, which still allows journalists to be imprisoned for expressing any sympathy with the regime in North Korea.

"It is not a sign of weakness towards the totalitarian regime in North Korea to remove penalties from the law which are contrary to freedom of expression," the organisation said.

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