SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- The state human rights watchdog body on Friday expressed concerns over the ruling party's push to pass a media bill centered on strengthening punitive damages against false reporting, saying the bill in its current state could undermine press freedom.
The ruling Democratic Party has been pushing for an amendment to the Press Arbitration Act to require an up to fivefold increase in penalties for media outlets spreading false or fraudulent news reports. Amid fierce protest from opposition parties and press-related organizations, the bill has been put on hold from voting until later this month.
In a letter delivered to the speaker of the National Assembly, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) insisted careful deliberations and discussions are needed to be preceded as some of the new clauses could weaken the freedom of the press.
The commission recommended the vague clause in the bill citing the intentional and gross negligence of media outlets be deleted and a new clause that properly stipulates the responsibilities of news outlets and involved parties in terms of proving the damages from false reports be newly added.
It expressed concerns media reports that are either politically or ideologically critical to the subject of the reporting and those that try to expose criminal and business corruptions could become targets of stricter punitive damages from the bill.
The NHRCK reached the conclusion in a closed-door meeting of its plenary committee meeting Monday, which was the first meeting presided by the commission's new Chairman Song Doo-hwan.
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international rights advocacy organization, and three other human rights organizations sent a joint letter to President Moon Jae-in and the National Assembly calling for the revision of the envisioned media bill, saying it could suppress press freedom.