In the press

Daily Sports Korea: From combating fake news to promoting good news

3 May 2023

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Article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea stipulates that all citizens have the freedom of speech and press, and the freedom of assembly and association. It also prohibits any licensing or censorship of the press or publication, as well as any permit requirements for assembly or association. Additionally, the standards for communication and broadcasting facilities and the function of newspapers are protected by law. The article also states that the press and publication must not infringe on the rights, reputation, or public morals and ethics of others, and that victims of such infringement may claim damages.

In South Korea, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected by the Constitution. Freedom of expression is a fundamental and inherent right, and freedom of the press is a core pillar that supports democracy. Freedom of the press includes freedom of establishment and operation of press organizations and freedom from censorship. It also provides for compensation for damages caused by the press violating the rights or reputation of others. This constitutional provision is the basis of various laws related to the press, and it is also the philosophical foundation for the establishment of institutions related to the press.

Fake news is a word that is often used in conjunction with freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The term, commonly translated as "false news," has generated a lot of controversy since its inception. It is difficult to distinguish in reality, and as a phenomenon, fake news is subject to various sanctions and regulations. It is already a phenomenon that has been resolved. There is no citizen who is opposed to the eradication of fake news in principle. However, there are several points to consider and worry about in terms of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

There have been many attempts to conceptualize fake news. The South Korean government uses the term "false fabrication information" to replace the unclear meaning of fake news. In a narrow sense, fake news is news that manipulates facts as if they were true. It abuses the authority of the press by borrowing the format of news. As is well known, fake news is a favorite investigation of politicians and their associates. It is common to witness cases where they call everything fake news regardless of whether the content is true or not. They call all information that is unfavorable to them fake news. Information provided by those who have a different political standpoint is also fake news to them. Thus, the term fake news in the political sphere is used in a very partisan manner.

Fake news has become a common term in everyday life as well as in politics. Most citizens experience fake news spreading rapidly through social media. It is also easy to encounter victims of fake news who call something fake news when it should be said to be false. The examples of its expansion are numerous. On the other hand, the fake news used in everyday life explodes the discourse of the press. Unintentional misinformation, inaccurate reports that do not affect the overall context, and reports with insufficient verification are also called fake news, ridiculing the press and becoming a groundless argument for a press-free society.

Recently, politicians and others have emphasized fake news again and proposed specific sanctions and regulatory measures. There are plans to establish a fake news reporting and consultation center at the government level. Considering the pain, confusion, and social costs that citizens are experiencing due to fake news, it is understandable that these measures are necessary to some extent. It is fully agreed that measures should be taken in all sectors of society to prevent fake news. It cannot be denied that there is a considerable responsibility for our press in the occurrence and expansion of fake news.

However, many measures and plans related to fake news introduced by the executive and legislative branches, including this one, raise similar criticisms and questions about their feasibility. First, there is the conceptualization of fake news. Even if we can define fake news, what is the scope of it? Where does fake news end and misinformation begin? In the context where the frame of the media being the creator of fake news is well-established, can we clearly distinguish and take action against fake news and misinformation produced by other producers? Moreover, fundamentally, if media outlets are included as targets of fake news measures, is there no risk of threatening the freedom of the press?

Next is the utilization of existing regulations related to the media. The Press Arbitration Commission, the Korea Communications Standards Commission, and other organizations are already regulating the media, although not sufficiently. The Korea Press Ethics Commission and the Internet Newspaper Commission are also implementing self-regulation of the press. Wouldn't it be more professional and efficient to utilize these organizations and institutions for measures related to fake news in the media? Instead of creating new organizations or institutions or having them take new measures, wouldn't it be more desirable to enhance their professionalism by utilizing them? Is there no risk of the new measures to be implemented infringing on the freedom of the press, such as the freedom of operation and the freedom from censorship of media institutions?

In addition, the practicality of sanctions and regulations may also be a problem. Apart from preventive measures, is there an easy way to find and delete fake news on various social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and KakaoTalk? Even if they are found, is there a way to completely delete fake news? Can preemptive measures be taken against newly emerging social platforms? How can foreign social platforms be forced to detect and regulate fake news? What is the appropriate line of action that does not violate freedom of expression in social media?

There are countless other questions. Ultimately, the core issue is that sanctions and regulations against fake news must not violate freedom of the press and freedom of expression. If a solution is not found, these measures are likely to be ruled unconstitutional.

Fake news has been around since humans began to communicate. In the reality of communication becoming more complex and the means of communication reaching dozens of varieties, it is impossible to completely eradicate fake news. Strengthened sanctions and regulations against fake news are necessary, but the measures taken by the executive and legislative branches regarding fake news should not be aimed at eradicating fake news, which is impossible, but at producing more high-quality journalism, which is the result of good news, and exposing it more than fake news.

Wayne Kim, PhD, Chief Researcher at PUBLISH Institute of News and Technology

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