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South Korea 12 August 2003

Confidentiality of TV station’s sources under threat

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today called on the South Korea prosecutor general to abandon the attempts to get the privately-owned TV station SBS to hand over politically embarrassing videotape recordings which, after they were broadcast last week, caused President Roh Moo-hyun’s private secretary to resign.

"When journalists are forced to reveal their sources, no one will trust them with information and it is society’s right to be informed that suffers", Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to the prosecutor, Song Kwang-Soo. Professional ethics require that journalists protect their sources. This is fundamental for independent, investigative journalism and therefore for transparency in public affairs as well, the organisation said.

Investigators from the Cheongju prosecutor’s office tried to search the SBS offices on 5 August. They also asked a senior staff member to surrender the videos and give them access to the server hosting the station’s website. But some 40 employees physically prevented them from carrying out their search and from obtaining what they sought.

A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office described this as obstruction of justice, but said the judicial authorities would try to persuade the station to surrender the videotapes. Coercion would not be used, he said. An SBS representative, Ha Geum-Yeou, said the station’s employees had acted as individuals with the sole aim of protecting the confidentiality of their sources.

The footage screened last week - recorded by a hidden camera - showed presidential private secretary Yang Gil-seung dining and drinking with a hotel and night-club owner known for his problems with the judicial authorities, including tax fraud. The same footage also showed other members of the ruling party and former classmates of President Roh.

A spokesperson for the Association of Korean Journalists said it would do everything possible to combat this threat to press freedom.

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