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Cablegate: Media Reform Law Declared Unconstitutional

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #2183/01 1810921
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 300921Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0884
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0952
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8766
INFO RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI
RHMFIUU/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SEOUL 002183

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KS PGOV PHUM
SUBJECT: MEDIA REFORM LAW DECLARED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

REF: A. 05 SEOUL 20

B. 04 SEOUL 05258

SUMMARY
--------

1 (SBU) On June 30, the Constitutional Court declared the
government's controversial 2005 media reform package, which
employed antitrust principles to regulate the newspaper
market, mostly unconstitutional. The ruling was a victory
for the conservative media, who argued that the law was a
politically-motivated attempt to stifle the administration's
critics. END SUMMARY.


THE MEDIA REFORM LAW
--------------------

2. (U) On January 1, 2005, the National Assembly passed a
bitterly-contested media reform package ostensibly designed
to increase diversity in the media market (Refs A, B). The
law, which has been in effect since July 2005, provided the
Fair Trade Commission authority to impose restrictions on
publishers if any one newspaper has more than 30 percent of
the market or if three major newspapers have a combined
market share of 60 percent or more. The law also required
press owners to report their circulation and advertising
revenue to a Press Development Committee. The law did not
apply to broadcast or internet media.

3. (SBU) The government argued that the restrictions were
necessary to open the media market to a variety of opinions.
Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae, who in 2004 was a Member of
the National Assembly, explained to us previously that the
law would help ensure media competition and its intent was
not to stifle the press.

4. (SBU) The conservative media, however, cried foul from
the start. The JoongAng Ilbo wrote in an October 15, 2004,
editorial that the proposal "destroyed our hopes for the true
advancement of journalism and democratic society." Other
editorials were equally alarmist. Indeed, there has long
been animosity between the Roh Administration and the
conservative press -- in particular, the Chosun Ilbo, the
JoongAng Ilbo, and the Dong-A Ilbo. Together, the three
newspapers control about 75 percent of the press market and
have been, at times, harshly critical of the government.
Many observers thought it was suspiciously convenient that
the media reforms would most affect these three newspapers,
while not touching the historically pro-administration
broadcast and internet media. However, some progressive
media companies, such as Hankyoreh newspaper, welcomed the
law as a necessary measure to break open the print media
market.

5. (U) In February 2005, local newspapers, including the
Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, and former Grand National Party
lawmaker Chung In-bong filed a petition objecting to the law
in the Constitutional Court. In essence, the plaintiffs
argued that the law was an unjust use of government power and
infringement on freedom of the press as guaranteed by the ROK
Constitution.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL RESTRICTION ON PRESS FREEDOM
---------------------------------------------

6. (U) The Constitutional Court on June 29 ruled that the
media reform law was, in large part, unconstitutional and in
violation of the ROK's Constitutional freedom of the press.
The Court noted that ordinary businesses were considered to
be monopolistic when they commanded more than 75 percent of
the market. The media law's differing treatment for
newspapers constituted unfair discrimination. The court said
that popular newspapers should not be punished for attracting
more readers. The court also ruled that provisions of the
law that compelled newspapers to publish corrections without
a court order and prohibited an individual who owned more
than half of one daily from owning more than half of another
were also unconstitutional. The court, however, ruled that
the provision of the law that required newspapers to
publicize information on their circulation, advertising
revenue and other financial information was constitutional.

7. (SBU) Attorney for the newspapers and Professor of Media
Law at Hong-ik University Bang Suk-ho told poloff on June 29
that the ruling was significant to preserve freedom of the
press in the ROK. He said that the case was unique in that
it forced progressive media and other groups to argue in
favor of a restriction of civil rights, that is, the rights
of the conservative media to a free press.

8. (SBU) Bang was not disturbed by the provision of the law
that the court allowed to stand. Because newspapers now had
to release their circulation information, advertisers were
able to discern how few people subscribe to Hankyoreh and
some of the other liberal press. As a result, the law
appeared to have caused a shift in advertising revenue from
the progressive media to the wider-reaching conservative
press, he said.

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) As reflected in our 2004 and 2005 Human Rights
Reports, we have long had misgivings about the media reform
law. The notion of increasing diversity in the media market
is a good one; however, there should be ways for the
government to achieve this without muzzling the voices of its
critics.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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