The Command Post
Global Recon
January 31, 2005
South Korea's Ruling Party Launches Campaign Against Independent Media

Supporters of South Korea's leftist President Roh-Moo Hyun have announced a fresh campaign to persuade citizens to cancel their subscriptions to the often-critical Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, and to subscribe instead to the pro-government Kyunghang Sinmun and Hankyoreh Sinmun. The latter newspapers both strongly support the Roh administration's policy of appeasing North Korea and assuming a more neutral role toward the United States, which maintains 34,000 troops in Korea for that nation's defense.

The group, known as Nosamo, or people who love Roh Moo-Hyun ("Roh" is actually pronounced "Noh" in Korean) represents the core of the president's Internet-savvy supporters, and would presumably not engage in a significant public campaign were the group's namesake to express his opposition.

Since the elevation of the left-center Kim Dae Jung to the presidency in 1997, the government has feuded with both the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, primarily over North Korea policy and the President's stalled initiative to move South Korea's capital out of Seoul. The Korean National Assembly, in which the President's party holds a narrow majority, recently passed legislation restricting media companies to a market share to 30%, or a cumulative 60% for the top three companies. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has yet to release its 2004 annual report on South Korea, criticized the law in a letter to the ruling party, saying that the law "looks more like ideological revenge that an attempt to regulate the news sector." RSF also praised the government for lifting decriminalizing news coverage the government perceived as favorable to the North Korean regime.

Previous government measures against opposition newspapers have included tax law prosecutions, libel suits, and vitriolic statements against both papers. The International Press Institute has suggested that the tax prosecutions were a politically motivated effort to silence the opposition media and noted with concern that three editors who were being prosecuted for tax evasion were jailed before they were tried. The Coordinating Committee for Press Freedom Organizations has stated that it is "no coincidence that the media companies most skeptical of President Kim and his sunshine policy of engagement with communist North Korea have been among those hardest hit by the audits." A recent book by a former Hankyoreh reporter claims that the tax enforcement actions were part of a government-orchestrated plan to muzzle the opposition media.

Last October, Prime Minister Lee Hai-Chan made the following statements after drinking whiskey-beer boilermakers at a social function during an official visit to Berlin, Germany, at which members of the press were present:
Chosun, Dong-A, don't plot against history. Don't play with this administration. Both President Roh and I will fight you to the end. . . . The Chosun is behind the times. The Chosun and Dong-A are in my hand. . . . Don't think you yourselves can take and shake this nation. Don't pretend you have power, and don't distort history. . . . Do you know how much the Dong-A Ilbo has attacked me? I read the Chosun Ilbo every morning, but the Chosun has never written anything that accords with the flow of history. . . . In the flow of history, the Joongang Ilbo seems to be finding the middle. . . . I will never forgive the Chosun Ilbo. Even if the Chosun makes unreasonable remarks, I won't pay attention.
Other officials present at the event later expressed regret for the comments.

The efforts are reminiscent of the measures Russian President Vladimir Putin used to silence opposition media in Russia.

Posted by OneFreeKorea at January 31, 2005 10:45 AM | TrackBack
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