South Korea court rules restrictive press laws unconstitutional

[JURIST] South Korea's Constitutional Court [official website] on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional provisions in the controversial Newspaper Law and the Press Arbitration Law that restrict the circulation of three conservative daily newspapers and authorize the government to compel newspaper retractions without a court order. The Wednesday ruling is based on Article 21 of the Korean Constitution [text], which reads in part:

All citizens enjoy the freedom of speech and the press, and of assembly and association...Licensing or censorship of speech and the press...may not be recognized...Neither speech nor the press may violate the honor or rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics. Should speech or the press violate the honor or rights of other persons, claims may be made for the damage resulting therefrom.
The decision invalidated as an excessive restriction on the freedom of newspapers a provision in the Newspaper Law [Chosun Ilbo backgrounder] that prevents an individual who owns more than half of one daily newspaper from owning half of another, though the law will remain in effect until a revision is worked out. The decision also invalidates as "uncomfortable" with the constitution several provisions in the Press Arbitration Law, including a provision subjecting any three dailies who control more than 60 percent of any market share to antitrust laws, and a provision that would allow the government to order retractions of unfavorable reports without a court order.

The constitutional petition was brought by conservative newspapers Chosun Ilbo, Joong Ang Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo [media websites]. The International Press Institute [advocacy website] has condemned both laws [press release] as creating an "extremely negative impact upon South Korea's reputation as a democratic nation." Chosun Ilbo has local coverage.

 

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