Lee Myung-bak, conservative victor in the December 2007 presidential election, promised to find a solution to the “press rooms” crisis. Journalists have fought the closure of these rooms that were assigned for their use within the main administrative buildings. Former president Roh Moo-huyn had wanted to rationalise and modernise government communications.
The administration in May 2007 adopted new rules entitled “Measures to develop a modern system of media support” which meant the closure of most press rooms within public buildings in the capital Seoul. New rooms were built but they no longer allowed journalists free access to ministries and major administrations as had been the case previously. The authorities closed the administration press rooms which had been established for decades, on 11 October. The Internet was cut off and equipment removed. One month later, the national police did the same. Police were deployed in front of the building to stop journalists from going in. Journalists protested against the new measures which they deemed an obstruction to their work, refusing to use the new rooms and “camped” in the corridors of the administrations. The major journalists’ organisations condemned it as an attempt to restrict access to information. On the other hand, some foreign journalists and publications close to the head of state welcomed the changes.
This reform, which was initiated by President Roh Moo-hyun, was intended to concentrate all official communications into just a few press rooms in Seoul, Gwacheon and Daejeon. Officials were no longer allowed to speak directly to the press. The new president, Lee Myung-bak, has promised to rapidly resolve this crisis.
Elsewhere, the conservative victory should bring an end to various attempts by the centre-left presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun to limit the power of the newspapers, Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, which represent nearly 70% of the market of the daily written press.
Cases of violence against the press are rare. However, in March, anti-riot police in Seoul injured ten journalists, while covering a rally of demonstrators opposed to free trade negotiations between South Korea and the United States. The following day police issued a statement apologising.
Finally, although it is never used, Article 7 of the law on national security still allows a journalist to be imprisoned for expressing “sympathy” with the North Korean regime.