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Int'l Human Rights Groups Urge Seoul to Reject Media Amendment Bill

#Hot Issues of the Week l 2021-09-19



Global human rights groups have urged the South Korean government to abandon its proposed amendments of the media arbitration bill, saying they undermine free speech and freedom of the media.

In a letter to President Moon Jae-in and the National Assembly, the groups, including Human Rights Watch, argued that the revisions’ vague language and disproportionate damage could limit the range of expression.

The rights groups also said media outlets may be compelled to censor themselves in order to avoid publishing reports that could trigger unwarranted lawsuits.

They also expressed concerns that courts being allowed to boost the remuneration cap on outlets if a report causes property damage, infringes on personality rights, or causes emotional distress could restrict free speech.

The clause would allow awarding damages even if the falsity is not material, and prompt those subject to critical reporting to claim punitive damages on the grounds of emotional distress for even minor factual errors, the groups said.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea on Friday also stressed the need to strictly observe the principles of prohibiting excessive acts and clarity, as tightening restrictions on news reporting could restrict a basic right guaranteed by the Constitution.

The commission's statement, which followed a closed-door meeting, was directed towards National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug.

The disputed revisions allow much higher compensation should a media outlet intentionally or unintentionally release a false or manipulated report. Additionally, they must prove their actions were neither intentional nor grossly negligent. 

The Commission raised concerns that media outlets that are critical of the government or commission investigative reports on crime, corruption and corporate misconduct could become liable for exemplary damages.

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