KOREA: New government to scrap newspaper law

Presidential transition committee also considers consolidating organizations that support newspapers

The Korea Herald
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

By Song Sang-ho
The incoming government will seek to abolish a controversial newspaper law, which has been criticized for restricting press freedom and the media industry, the presidential transition committee said yesterday.

"We have decided to abolish the newspaper act to secure the freedom and fairness of the press, and rejuvenate the media industry," said Kang Seung-kyoo, deputy spokesman for the transition team, after a briefing session with the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

New legislation will be established to replace it, the committee said.

The abolishment of the law was one of President-elect Lee Myung-bak's key campaign pledges.

The regulation was first enforced in June 2005 by the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

The law includes a clause under which any daily newspaper with a market share of 30 percent or any three dailies with a combined share of 60 percent are subject to monopoly regulations under the Fair Trade Act. In June 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled that the clause is unconstitutional.

Critics said it targets major newspapers critical of the government and undermines press freedom.

The new government is also seeking to ease rules that prohibit newspapers from entering the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.

The prohibition was backed in June 2006 by the Constitutional Court. However, it has been criticized as overlooking the rapid development of the industry, particularly media convergence.

The committee also said it would abolish some of the organizations supporting newspapers, consolidating them into a more efficient body to ensure greater autonomy to companies.

The committee is also mulling the establishment of joint-delivery centers in rural areas and a cooperative body for newspaper distribution.

The Korea Commission for the Press and the Korea Newspaper Circulation Service are most likely to be closed. Both were established with the enforcement of the Newspaper Act under the current government in an effort to increase access to a variety of newspapers in remote areas by establishing a wide circulation network.

However, critics claim that the organizations have marred fair competition among newspapers by helping pro-government publications increase their influence in the market. Most of the major newspapers are critical of the incumbent president. The figures for other businesses are 50 percent for a single monopoly and 75 percent for multiple market dominants.

Regarding the issue of privatization of state-run broadcasters, Lee Dong-gwan, spokesman for the committee, said, "There is nothing specific at all we have reviewed or discussed in that regard."

Separately, the Culture and Tourism Ministry requested that the budget allocated for cultural projects be raised to 2 percent of the total national budget from the current 1 percent.