Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite steps by the government of President Roh Moo-hyun to limit journalists’ access to official buildings, South Korea’s media environment remained among the freest in Asia in 2007. Freedom of the press is guaranteed under South Korean law and is generally respected in practice. Censorship of the media is against the law, though the government censors films for sex and violence. Article 7 of the 1948 National Security Law allows imprisonment for praising or expressing sympathy for North Korea. Roh’s tenure has been marked by disputes with conservative media outlets, and critics alleged that the liberal government was seeking to reduce the media’s influence through two reform laws passed in January 2005. The Law Governing the Guarantee of Freedom and Functions of Newspapers included provisions that required all newspapers to register with the government and essentially limited the circulation of the three major conservative dailies. In June 2006, however, the Supreme Court struck down these measures by a vote of seven to two.
Violence against journalists is unusual in South Korea, but in March 2007, at least eight journalists were beaten by riot police while covering a protest against a free-trade agreement with the United States. The police later issued an apology and claimed to have punished the offending officers. The Roh government’s animosity toward the media was also apparent in measures approved in May 2007 and implemented in October, under which the authorities reportedly closed all but three pressrooms in government buildings nationwide. The Government Information Agency called the closures part of a media reform designed to upgrade the “support system for news coverage,” but journalists and international media watchdogs have criticized the measures as an attempt to restrict access to information. Under the new regulations, journalists are not permitted to enter government buildings without prior authorization and can interview ministers and other civil servants only after receiving state permission.
South Korea has vibrant and diverse media, with numerous cable, terrestrial, and satellite television stations and over 100 daily newspapers in Korean and English. Many newspapers depend on large corporations for their advertising revenue. There are both public and private radio and television stations, including an American Forces Network for the U.S. military. The internet is generally unrestricted by government regulations, but some websites have been blocked for posting pro–North Korean content, and the government requires all website operators to indicate whether their sites might be harmful to youth. Approximately 71 percent of the population reportedly accessed the internet in 2007, and a significant number of young people get their news exclusively from online sources. South Korean online media are especially vigorous and innovative. For example, an interactive internet news site called OhMyNews, launched in 2000, allows citizens to submit their own news articles for immediate publication on the site.