Seoul’s media crackdown prompts statement from Foreign Correspondents’ Club

by WorldTribune Staff, March 18, 2019

Media outlets and free speech advocates in South Korea are criticizing a move by the government of leftist President Moon Jae-In to introduce a system which could block YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Netflix, and other online and social network services.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In, left, and Korea Communications Commission Chairman Lee Hyo-Seong. / Yonhap

South Korean conservatives have complained of government control and bias in the nation’s mainstream media and make heavy use of YouTube channels.

Lee Hyo-Seong, chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), proposed the new system on March 8. The KCC chair is one of six officials who report directly to the president.

The KCC 2019 Plan for Pursuing Key Tasks includes a section titled “Strengthening the Regulation of Illegal information/Service” which states:

“If it is impossible to correct illegal activities (three times), [the KCC] will introduce (as of February 2019) a system to order temporary cessation of services.  This applies not only to domestic companies, but also to ‘foreign enterprises providing service through the Internet’ and it ‘strengthens the inspection of prohibited activities and expands the duty to evaluate protection of users.’ ”

On March 16, the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over the government’s suppression of freedom of the press, calling it a “form of censorship and journalistically chilling.”

“South Korea underwent a long struggle to achieve full democracy and the SFCC calls on politicians on all sides to respect the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the statement said.

The statement took the ruling Minjoo Party to task for “singling out a Bloomberg reporter” and causing “serious threats to her personal safety.”

The statement was referring to Youkyung Lee, a reporter for Bloomberg News who is based in South Korea.

The Minjoo Party, referring to Lee’s Sept. 25, 2018 article under the headline “South Korea’s Moon Becomes Kim Jong-Un’s Top Spokesman at UN”, said the article was an “insult against the head of state virtually tantamount to treason committed under the cloak of a U.S. national [sic] wire service.”

The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club noted that “There was no comment whatsoever by the Minjoo Party when the article was published last September. However, when Rep Na Kyung-Won, leader of the main opposition party, in a recent speech at the National Assembly referred to Ms. Lee’s article (without mention of the reporter or Bloomberg), Minoo Party assemblymen yelled in protest, with several physically approaching the floor and podium as well as opposition party assemblymen in a threatening manner.”

In the article for Bloomberg, Lee wrote: “While Kim Jong-Un isn’t attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, he had what amounted to a de facto spokesman singing his praises: South Korean President Moon Jae-In.

“In speeches and television appearances, Moon – who has held three summits this year with Kim – portrayed the North Korean autocrat as a normal world leader who wants to bring economic prosperity to his people. He made no mention of atrocities that prompted President Donald Trump to call North Korea a ‘cruel dictatorship’ during his State of the Union address in January.”

According to a March 14 report by Tara O for East Asia Research Center, KCC recently began to block websites beginning with “https” (s for secure).

The KCC “is monitoring citizens’ Server Name Indication (SNI) packets that are sent to ‘https’ sites as a ‘handshake’ before a secure connection occurs.  This new step of examining SNI packets, said to prevent access to porn or illegal sites, can prevent access to all internet URL addresses beginning with ‘https,’ ” the March 14 report said.

The Deobureo Minju Party has “already tried to censor certain YouTube programs by dubbing 104 of them fake news,’ ” the report said, adding that National Assemblyman Park Kwang-On (Deobureo Minju) “physically went to the office of Google Korea to ask Google to delete those programs.  When Google refused because the content did not violate Google policy, Park summoned the head of Google Korea to the National Assembly for ‘tax evasion.’ ”

“This plan, if implemented, could further suppress freedom of speech and freedom of the press, especially in the realm of the Internet,” Tara O noted.  “KCC chair Lee already helped the National Media Workers’ Union under the militant Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) take over MBC and KBS broadcasting networks, which now broadcast pro-Moon government and pro-Kim Jong-Un regime programs and news.”

Tara O added: “Many YouTubers are concerned that their YouTube programs will no longer be accessible to the public.  They and their followers view these measures as the Moon administration’s efforts to suppress freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  They lament that South Korea is becoming more like China. It will also dry up income for YouTubers, which matches one of the Moon administration’s methods of silencing other political opponents–by denying them income; in this case, the income from YouTube.”


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