South Korea pushes for punitive compensation law on media companies

SEOUL, South Korea — On July 8, 2021, South Korea’s leading political party pushed to pass a new law that obliges the media to pay punitive compensation. This new law, officially named the Act on Press Arbitration and Remedies, etc. for Damage Caused by Press Reports, aims to prevent “fake or false news that is intentional or caused by serious negligence by a news provider.”

The legislation includes clauses that state a media company that caused damages with a report may have to pay for punitive compensation as much as five times the amount of damage claimed by the victim. It also states that a newspaper must publish corrections for the report on the first page, broadcasters and internet news websites having to post corrections on top. Under the current media law in South Korea, it is up to the media companies where they publish a story correction. 

There’s no doubt that a journalist should report only the truth and comprehend before publishing what kind of consequences a story may bring. The law itself was brought up as a countermeasure for false news. 

But journalists worry that the punitive compensation law the South Korea government is pushing is a hindrance to freedom of the press. 

Even without a punitive compensation law on media companies, it is possible to claim damages on a journalist in South Korea. In April, the International Federation of Journalists and the UNI Global Union held a press conference condemning the e-commerce company Coupang’s lawsuits against individual journalists who reported on laborer deaths that occurred inside the company. Their statement called it a “clear attempt at silencing the media and an attack against freedom of speech.” 

Moreover, media companies point out that the Press Arbitration Commission already plays the role as a counter to request correction, therefore the punitive compensation law may end up as double punishment on reports. Journalists in South Korea worry the law will intimidate journalists from investigating stories under the pressure of getting involved in a lawsuit with their company. According to the World Press Freedom Index conducted by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), South Korea remained at rank 42  on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, same as the year before. The democratic country stands at a relatively high position compared to neighboring Asian countries like China and Japan. But the landscape of press freedom is about to change as South Korea’s leading political party succeeded in passing the punitive compensation law amendment on July 27.