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Vice mayor tells Seoul Metro to ease up on ads

July 31,2018
Jin Sung-joon, Seoul’s vice mayor for political affairs, asked the Seoul Metro to reconsider its decision to ban advertisements with possible political leanings in subway stations, saying that such a regulation infringes freedom of speech and expression.

Seoul Metro, the city-run subway company that operates subway line Nos. 1 through 8 and a part of line No. 9, on June 22 decided to ban “any advertisement in the future that contains a sexual, political, religious or ideological message representing one individual or a group in the subway stations.”

As examples of advertisements to be banned, the company mentioned past advertisements by feminism groups, some related to the inter-Korean summit, and even an advertisement that wished President Moon Jae-in a happy birthday, which was screened in subway stations for a few weeks in January, in time for his birthday on Jan. 24, and paid for by a group of supporters who go by the name “Moon_rise_day” on Instagram and Twitter.

A number of civic groups have opposed the regulation and the Seoul Metropolitan Government hosted an internal meeting earlier this month on the issue, which was attended by Jin.

“A regulation that bans the expression of an opinion is an excessive regulation,” Jin said in the meeting, a source in the Seoul city government told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The company should reconsider because it can be an infringement on the freedom of speech and expression.”

Seoul Metro as of Monday had not officially responded to Jin’s comment.

“I wasn’t issuing a directive, so it’s not like Seoul Metro has to submit by a certain deadline a change to its regulation,” Jin told the JoongAng Ilbo over the phone on Monday. “But I do intend to keep on eye on how the company responds.

“This is what I think,” he added. “If an advertisement does not stage a personal attack on someone, commit libel or spread false information, I think it should be allowed to be put up.”

If Seoul Metro complies with Jin’s request, it may mean more advertisements in subway stations by political groups, including right-wing groups calling for the release of former President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office last year and jailed for 24 years for power abuse and corruption. The Seoul High Court is expected to announce a verdict in her appeal next month.

“Fundamentally, those kinds of advertisements should also be allowed,” Jin said. “But the company would have to review if such an advertisement calling for her release after her trial is harmful to the law and order of society.”

Jin was appointed the vice mayor for political affairs at the Seoul city government earlier this month after Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon began his third term in office. Jin was previously President Moon’s secretary for political planning and before that a member of his strategy team in last year’s presidential campaign. He was a Democratic Party lawmaker from 2012 to 2016, served as Moon’s spokesperson during his presidential campaign in 2012 and was spokesman for Mayor Park in his campaign in 2014.

BY CHOI SUN-WOOK, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]