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[Editorial] Wrong target

Ruling party moves to ‘reform’ media in bid to shift blame for its election defeat

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea is forging a strange logic for the defeat in the March 9 presidential election. Its misguided target is none other than the media. In the Democratic Party’s view, the party and its former candidate were innocent victims of so-called “fake news.”

Rep. Yun Ho-jung, who now stands as the party’s interim leader, said in a press briefing Sunday that the party plans to focus on reforming the media, and revealed its unwavering determination to fight against journalists.

“To ensure national unity, the people’s right to know and the independence of the press, it is urgent to reform the media,” Yun said.

The two main reactions from some lawmakers in the ruling party are bewilderment and embarrassment.

One of the main reasons for the loss in the extremely tight presidential race is the Moon Jae-in administration’s continued failures in reining in soaring housing prices and runaway taxes –- not the media.

Yun’s remark refers to the ruling party’s abortive attempt to railroad the controversial media reform legislation last year. The proposal to revise the media-related act, however, collapsed in September amid growing public criticism about the unilateral act of the Democratic Party holding a supermajority.

Even President Moon stepped back from the proposed revision bill in the face of strong backlash from journalists, academics and civic groups at home and abroad. The bill was intended to put crippling restrictions on journalists by imposing prohibitively high penalties concerning factual errors in reports.

During the presidential campaign, Lee Jae-myung of the ruling party claimed that the current criminal complaints and legal proceedings were not sufficient to solve all the problems related to the media.

Of course, media outlets producing a torrent of fake news on purpose should be punished under the law, but the ruling party’s proposal to place crushing penalties on top of the current legal regulations and media arbitration systems is hard to understand.

Yun’s latest comment in this regard is just a reflection of the underlying sense of victimhood that has long plagued the ruling party. It’s a negative perception that does not help improve the media industry, which is beleaguered by a slew of challenges.

Yun is not alone in shifting blame to the media. A senior lawmaker of the liberal ruling party was quoted as saying that the media law should be revised to halve the number of general programming cable channels. From the viewpoint of ruling party members, the channels in question are unfairly leaning toward the main opposition People Power Party.

It is difficult to understand the argument that a cable channel should be shut down because it produced negative reports about a political party. A major role of news media is to keep reporting about politicians and their activities, regardless of whether such reports have a positive or negative tone.

False reports should be avoided, but the current Media Arbitration Commission handles complaints about incorrect or malicious reports. The commission keeps playing its role as a monitor of journalists and media outlets, together with the related judicial system designed to block fake news.

The ruling party’s self-styled “reform plan” for the media industry is a thinly-veiled attempt to tame the media ahead of the June local elections. The party’s move to shutter conservative cable channels by abusing its supermajority in the National Assembly is a case in point.

In all fairness, more urgent is the reform of the embattled Democratic Party, whose members have yet to realize how their unilateral passages of various bills generated serious side effects. And this is why the freedom of the press is all the more important.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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