S. Korea Abolishes Restrictive Press Law but Keeps Some Curbs

Times Staff Writer

South Korea’s National Assembly, winding up an abbreviated session Tuesday, passed a flurry of bills that included partial reforms of the nation’s restrictive press laws.

The Basic Press Law, imposed by President Chun Doo Hwan’s government after it took power in a 1980 coup, was abolished by a unanimous vote. In its place, new laws were adopted regulating newspapers and magazines, television and radio.

A key reform removes from the Ministry of Culture and Information the power to revoke the registration of print publications. Bans on newspapers or magazines would be subject to court decisions.

The new laws, however, would still inhibit absolute press freedom by requiring newspaper managements to own their own presses. Critics of the laws, while they were under discussion, complained that the so-called facilities requirement would deter publication by small-scale enterprises.


Retaining Control of TV

Other provisions of the reform laws retain government ownership or control of television networks but prohibit government interference with their programming.

The discarded Basic Press Law allowed the government to revoke the publishing licenses of any Korean publication deemed to have committed “acts hampering national security or the good traditions and customs of the country.” It provided imprisonment for reporters who violated the law.

Several opposition lawmakers were quoted as saying the ruling party pushed through the laws without giving proper notice that a vote would take place.

Meanwhile, more than 40 opposition lawmakers Tuesday staged a two-hour sit-in at the headquarters of the government Korean Broadcasting System, complaining that its political coverage is biased in favor of the ruling party. And in Kwangju, an opposition city in the southwest, about 50 protesters attacked the local offices of the Munwha Broadcasting Corp., another government outlet, with rocks and firebombs. No injuries were reported.

Specifics of government registration of print media were still under discussion at the committee level when the assembly adjourned, according to press reports. Another key issue left for later was a proposed new election law for the next National Assembly.

The assembly was scheduled to remain in session until Dec. 20, but lawmakers agreed to adjourn early for the presidential campaign. On Tuesday, officials of the ruling Democratic Justice Party said the vote, the country’s first direct presidential election in 16 years, will be held Dec. 16. A formal announcement is expected Monday.