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Proposed "media support" measures will restrict free flow of information, says IPI

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 25 June 2007 IPI letter to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun:

His Excellency Roh Moo-hyun
President of the Republic of Korea
Cheong Wa Dae (Blue House)
Seoul
Republic of Korea
Fax: +822 770 2209 / 770 2549

Vienna, 25 June 2007

Your Excellency,

First of all I would like to thank you for the prompt reply to our concerns that Mr. Oh Young-jin, Secretary for Overseas Communications, sent us on your behalf.

While we appreciate Mr. Oh's explanation of the details of the reforms planned by your government - the Measures for Developing an Advanced Media Support System - the International Press Institute (IPI) is still deeply concerned that these measures increase the government's ability to restrict the free flow of information. This will eventually lead to a limitation of the people's ability to access information of public concern, which would represent a major failure by the Korean government to carry out its task of safeguarding and fostering democracy.

In its over 50 years of experience, IPI, as a global network of journalists, editors and media executives dedicated to the promotion of press freedom, has learned to detect elements that threaten press freedom not only in repressive countries, but also within democratic systems. IPI was founded on the belief that a free press is a fundamental element in a democracy. Our struggle for press freedom is therefore constant and, for this purpose, it is most important to monitor any kind of erosion of press freedom and anticipate the desire of governments to suppress the media.

The Advanced Media Support System would be only the latest in a series of laws affecting the media, which IPI has repeatedly criticised, enacted by your government throughout the past years. Some of these laws were even later on declared unconstitutional by the South Korean Constitutional Court.

For all these reasons, IPI is deeply concerned about the reforms foreseen in the Advanced Media Support System, in particular the requirement for staff members working at ministries to report their contacts with journalists to their supervisors in advance. As many South Korean and international media organisations have pointed out, these restrictions represent a grave violation of the fundamental right to confidentiality of sources of information.

One of the fundamental functions of the media in a democracy is that of distributing information of public interest. In order to do this, it is important that sources of information have the right to remain secret. The PR-like information handed out by the authorities needs to be amended, verified and counterbalanced. The requirement by your government that staff members at ministries report their contact with journalists would clearly prevent sources of information from affirming their right to confidentiality.

Furthermore, IPI is amazed that South Korea is planning to enact restrictions that would go against the principle of "good governance", which has been declared by the United Nations as one of the main focuses of attention for the current millennium. The opposite to good governance is defined by experts as "disruptions in the interaction between governmental and non-governmental players in the society".

IPI therefore would like to urge you once again to revise the proposed Measures for Developing an Advanced Media Support System in order to make sure that international standards are upheld and that erosions of press freedom do not threaten South Korea's democratic system.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz
Director

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