The press arbitration law initially aims to hold media companies and reporters accountable for any misleading reports for the sake of protecting the public from false or manipulated news. The Democratic Party came up with a revised bill as the seriousness of manipulated and false information intensified, the passing the standing committee on Aug. 19.
Issues regarding the revised bill of the press arbitration law has been highly controversial since the bill passed the Agenda Coordination Committee of the Culture, Sports, and Tourism Committee. The ruling party and the opposition party came up with a consultative group of eight people on Aug. 31 and is planning to reach an agreement by Sept. 27.
The revised bill was first brought up by the Democratic Party and it mainly deals with the punitive damages for the press’s misleading action. To be specific, one who claims to have suffered from property or mental damage can claim up to five times the amount of damage they have suffered due to the fake news. Cases that are intentional or are serious enough to be considered intentional will be mainly punished. To avoid such punishment, the press must prove that the problematic situation was a coincidence.
47.4 percent of the compensation victims receive under the current situation is determined to be less than five million won. This compensation does not even cover the lawyer’s expense and is too little compared to the harm they have received from incorrect news. About 60 percent of the cases were filed by individuals and one-third of them voluntarily withdrew their cases. Many more are expected to have given up without even submitting their damages to the committee. Supporters of the revised bill expect that the new law will solve such problems and relieve the victim’s monetary and psychological damages.
“The press arbitration law is needed when considering that Korea’s media holds too little responsibility compared to its power,” Professor Kim Yung-wook from the Division of Communication and Media said. “Nudging the press to the right path with certain amount of regulations is acceptable, since voluntarily following prior methods of regulation were not successful.”
Despite the bill’s initial purpose of preventing fake news and minimizing the harm they may cause, opposing parties and workers in the field of media strongly disagree with the bill from being legislated.
They mainly appeal that the bill goes against the freedom of speech and publication. Due to the harsh level of punishment, experts say that the new bill can be seen as an attempt to gag the press.
Irene Khan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, further pointed out that the expressions used in the bill are rather vague, which may lead to limited media reports and confined opinions of minorities. To add, the punishment is actually disproportionate, and this could result in media self-censorship and suppression of public debate.
Based on the arguments for and against the revised press arbitration bill, the future prospect and in what direction the bill and Korean media should develop are debatable.
“The press arbitration law should be enforced, and the measures should be maintained or even strengthened depending on how much it contributes to solving the current problem,” Kim said. “Freedom of speech not only refers to those of journalists, but also to the citizen’s right to avoid fake news. Moreover, the media being subjected to punishment should be widen to internet-based media companies.”