SEOUL, Sep 30 (Reuters) – South Korea’s ruling party has backed down on a controversial bill to impose tougher penalties for publishing false news, after criticism in South Korea and the foreigners called it the stifling of a free press and critical coverage.
Rather than put his “fake news” bill to a vote this week, President Moon Jae-in’s Liberal Democratic Party agreed on Wednesday evening to create a joint panel with opposition lawmakers to study options on how to amend existing legislation.
The review will also examine how to deal with the spread of false information on social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube, which are covered by separate law.
South Korea is home to a thriving information industry, ranking fairly high on media freedom lists, but it has struggled with the spread of disinformation and cyberbullying in recent years.
The proposed amendment to the Press Arbitration and Remedies Act would allow courts to order damages five times as high as they currently can for producing false or fabricated reports “with intent or gross negligence “which violates a plaintiff’s rights, inflicts property damage or causes emotional distress. . Read more
The bill also requires the media, including Internet information service providers, to correct false reports.
Moon Democrats said the bill was intended to ensure the media took greater responsibility for damage caused by incorrect reporting and to improve the quality of news and public confidence.
But opposition politicians, human rights activists and both conservative and liberal media organizations said the amendments would protect those in power from legitimate scrutiny and undermine democracy.
Senior Democrat Yun Ho-jung said the party had not abandoned its claim for punitive damages, but would gather a range of opinions, including from the media, civic groups and experts.
An alliance of journalists’ associations and news producers welcomed the decision, but said the panel should include journalists, academics, activists and legal professionals in order to reach a better consensus.
WAVE AND DISPROPORTIONED
Governments and businesses around the world are increasingly fighting the spread of fake news online and its impact, but activists fear harsh legal sanctions will be used to silence the opposition.
A coalition of rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, waged a global campaign to defeat the amendment and sent letters to South Korea’s National Assembly and Moon expressing concerns over the freedom of people. media.
“The ruling party seems to have accepted the concerns of the international community. It is a relief,” said Ethan Hee-seok Shin, legal analyst for the Seoul-based Transitional Justice Task Force, which is part of the coalition.
Moon’s office did not provide an immediate comment, but he said last week that reviews were needed to reflect the various concerns raised about the bill.
Irene Khan, UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, highlighted the vague wording of the current bill and the disproportionate sanctions, which she said could undermine not only media freedom, but also to national prestige.
“It will send a negative message to others around the world who see Korea as a role model,” Khan said in a virtual briefing last week.
Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, also warned of a “chilling effect” on human rights advocacy in a video message posted Tuesday.
Public sentiment is divided, with a survey by WinGKorea Consulting released in August showing that around 46% of those polled supported the bill, while nearly 42% said it would suppress press freedom.
South Korea ranks 42nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; edited by Richard Pullin
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