[Editorial] As court blocks encroachment on free press, government must take heed

Posted on : 2023-09-12 17:21 KST Modified on : 2023-09-12 17:21 KST
The government must at once stop its attacks on constitutional norms of freedom and independence of the press
Kwon Tae-sun, the chairperson of the Foundation for Broadcast Culture, speaks to reporters on Sept. 11 after being granted a suspension of execution on her dismissal by the Korea Communications Commission. (Yonhap)
Kwon Tae-sun, the chairperson of the Foundation for Broadcast Culture, speaks to reporters on Sept. 11 after being granted a suspension of execution on her dismissal by the Korea Communications Commission. (Yonhap)

On Monday, a court granted an injunction to the chairperson of the Foundation for Broadcast Culture (FBC), the majority shareholder of broadcaster MBC, who was facing dismissal ordered by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC).

Pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the legality of the dismissal, Kwon Tae-sun, the FBC chairperson, will remain in her position until the conclusion of the first trial.

This is the first time that the government has been halted in its attempt to remove board members of public broadcasters that are critical of the administration as part of its plan to tighten the grip on the media.

In response to the KCC’s stated reasoning for ordering Kwon’s dismissal — claims of poor management, supervision and operation of MBC — the Seoul Administrative Court ruled that “no vindication was found for the claim that the procedure by which the FBC board made its decision was substantially unreasonable in nature.”

The court argued that it is “more in line with the public interest to ensure the independence and impartiality of broadcasting to permit dismissal [of the FBC chairperson] only when objective circumstances that would impede their duties arise.”

In effect, the court found that the broadcast watchdog’s order to dismiss Kwon was unreasonable.

It is unusual for a court to issue a suspension of execution on the removal of a figure in the public broadcasting field. Courts had previously rejected requests to nullify dismissals of Han Sang-hyuk, then chairperson of the KCC, and Nam Young-jin, the chairperson of KBS, by the administration.

Jeong Yeon-ju, the former president of KBS, was dismissed during the Lee Myung-bak administration. Ko Dae-young, the president of KBS, and Kang Kyu-hyeong, a board member of KBS, were dismissed during the Moon Jae-in administration. While these three all had their dismissals invalidated after the fact, their applications for a suspension of execution were not granted at the time of their dismissal.

This shows how Kwon's dismissal was railroaded through without even the minimum of necessary conditions to back it up.

Though their requests for a suspension of dismissal did not end up being granted, neither Han nor Nam’s dismissals can be seen as justified.

The fact that presidents and board members of public broadcasters that were dismissed by previous administrations ultimately had their dismissals invalidated in the courtroom goes to show the court’s judgment that the independence of public broadcasters must be heeded.

Despite this long line of court precedent, the current administration is going to even further extremes than ever before to dismiss people serving on the boards of public broadcasters.

Moreover, Lee Dong-kwan, the Yoon-appointed chairperson of the KCC, continues to make arguments that fly in the face of the Constitution, such as his proposal of a “one strike” system that would shutter press outlets upon their first strike for “disseminating misinformation.” His proposal would essentially give the government free rein to judge the contents of reporting and determine the fate of press outlets, which is a complete denial of Article 21 of the Constitution, which states that “licensing or censorship of speech and the press, and licensing of assembly and association shall not be recognized.”

The government must at once stop its attacks on constitutional norms of freedom and independence of the press that are aimed at muzzling and taming the press to its liking.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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