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Ruling, opposition parties struggle to reach agreement over ‘fake news’ law

People Power Party threatened to filibuster if Democratic Party pushes ahead

Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, and Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader the People Power Party, give a fist-bump before holding a meeting at the National Assembly on the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration. (Yonhap)
Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, and Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader the People Power Party, give a fist-bump before holding a meeting at the National Assembly on the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration. (Yonhap)
Ruling and opposition parties failed to agree on the revision of the Act on Press Arbitration on Monday, postponing the plenary session scheduled for Monday to the next day. 

Yun Ho-jung, floor leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, and his counterpart Kim Gi-hyeon from the People Power Party met at around 10 a.m. to discuss the controversial “fake news” law. 

The meeting presided over by Speaker Park Byeong-seug lasted for several hours but the floor leaders failed to narrow differences. 

After the meeting, Yoon told reporters that, “The plenary session scheduled for today will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow,” adding, “We will meet with Speaker Park again at 11 a.m.”

Over the last month, the two parties have discussed the agenda 11 times, but failed to narrow their differences.

The Act on Press Arbitration aims to mediate disputes over media reports that infringe on people’s rights, interests or reputations.

Initially, the Democratic Party pushed for the imposition of punitive damages on “fake” press reports. Under the revised law, if the media damaged someone’s property, infringed on personal rights or caused mental distress due to false or manipulated reports, either on purpose or because of gross negligence, they would be liable for up to five times the actual damages the victims incurred.

However, in the wake of strong resistance from opposition lawmakers, media and civic groups, the ruling party slightly stepped back. They deleted the expression “false or manipulated reports” and replaced them with “untrue reports.” The amount of damages was also lowered from “five times” to 50 million won ($42,000) “or triple.”

The opposition party still asserts that punitive damages should be entirely deleted on the grounds of infringement of freedom of speech and concerns from the international community. They say a change to “untrue reports” could even widen the scope of liability for damages.

They also threatened to filibuster.

Jeon Ju-hye, a spokesperson of the People Power Party, said in a commentary on Monday the amendment to the media law must be agreed between the two parties.

“If the Democratic Party of Korea attempts to push ahead with the plenary session, we will stop it until the end even by a filibuster.”

Irene Khan, a United Nations special rapporteur on promoting the right to freedom of expression, made the remark during a virtual press briefing.

“I am afraid that if this amendment is adopted with this kind of disproportionate punishment being placed on the media, it will send a negative message to others around the world who are looking to Korea as a role model,” Khan said

“I would urge the Korean parliament to keep in mind also not only the domestic impact of this legislation but the international impact and to continue to be a leader in this area of supporting media freedom.”

Cheong Wa Dae remains cautious.

President Moon Jae-in said last week, “Since the media, civic groups and the international community are raising various issues, I think those points need to be thoroughly reviewed.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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