Friday, August 5, 2011

Defamation Laws in Korea

A broadcasting company producer writing for the Catholic Times, in  the "View from the Ark" column, comments on the present defamation laws in Korea. Many of the libel cases reported by the press, he says, usually involve, as the ones most likely to instigate the lawsuit: politicians and cabinet members, celebrities,  members of a government organization or those  managing members of some press group that instigates the lawsuit. Those  being  sued are the media those working in the media or private individuals.

When the media criticizes some policy or makes known some unsavory fact or shows some skepticism, those involved will often respond with a lawsuit, contending that such revelations slander them and they will seek redress under the law. Individuals who write or otherwise express themselves on the internet, radio or television are always vulnerable to defamation suits; there will always be some who will look for any excuse to lodge a lawsuit. The examples are many and are familiar to all.

Regardless of the result of these cases, the stress incurred by those who are accused of libel is great and generally increases while the case is being tried. The typical scenario pits a relatively powerless individual against powerful individuals or organizations. As an unintended consequence, the ease of pressing a libel suit places the  right to free speech in jeopardy.

The columnist then tells us what the penalties are for libelous speech. Whether the charges are true or not is immaterial if the person has suffered some damage; that alone is a sufficient reason for the suit, and if the charge is true, the penalty is less. There are conditions that must be met if the charge is found to be true, but these conditions, he says, are not easily fulfilled.

He mentions that the defamation laws have been criticized for years. The report to the UN, from the office of Frank La Rue, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the right of freedom of opinions and expression, was critical of the situation in Korea.  There were 8 areas in which he expressed reservations on the way Korea has handled human rights issues. Many of these involve the freedom of the press, the freedom to create, and the freedom to speak freely in cyberspace; these form the foundation on which a democratic  society is built. The present defamation laws in Korea, our columnist says, are shaking this foundation and threatening our democratic society.  He asks if the the report of Frank La Rue will have any results in Korea. The answer, he says, will have to come from those in the media, our artists, and the citizens of cyberspace.

The Catholic Press is not  happy with the  current defamation laws that curtail freedom of speech, and have expressed this on a number of occasions. However, because of the security laws of the Country and the  situation in the North, the efforts to make changes have been slow in coming. The hope is that with enough dissatisfaction with the defamation laws, the necessary changes will eventually be made.

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