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Ministry orders broad crackdown on fake news

Oct 17,2018
Justice Minister Park Sang-ki called on prosecutors Tuesday to crack down on fake news, saying the spread of false information undermines public trust in society and can lead to serious political and economic damages.

Park’s order, publicized in a press release issued by the Justice Ministry, came two weeks after Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon declared war on what he called a “destroyer of democracy” during a cabinet meeting at the Blue House.

Lee, at the time, said fake news was spreading widely in the country and affecting people’s privacy and policy issues, including South-North relations.

Lee did not give any examples, but the former Dong-A Ilbo reporter was apparently furious after returning from Vietnam to attend a state funeral for its president, Tran Dai Quang.

During his stay in Hanoi, Lee visited the residence of late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and wrote in the guestbook that he felt “humble” before a “great” leader who loved his people.

South Korean conservatives back home called Lee a “commie” and accused him of pledging allegiance to North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung. South Korea’s military fought against Ho’s Communist forces during the Vietnam War alongside the United States.

Opposition parties fired at Lee, saying the Moon Jae-in administration was out to suppress freedom of speech.

In a Justice Ministry press release Tuesday, Park ordered prosecutors to crack down on fake news and track whoever was responsible for its production and distribution. In cases in which serious falsehoods are clear, prosecutors were told to “actively start” investigations even before a formal complaint had been submitted to them.

The Justice Ministry said it planned to collect cases that local courts ruled to have been fake news and pass them on to the police, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Communications Standards Commission in order to request assistance in deleting them from the internet, monitoring any further spread and educating society about their false nature.

The Justice Ministry denied Park’s orders amounted to a violation of freedom of speech, saying authorities were trying to tackle the spread of fake information, which actually “disturbs” the public’s right to know and “threatens the sphere of democratic public debate.”

The ministry’s press release listed past examples of fake news and, apparently to defuse criticism from conservative lawmakers, described a defamation case involving former President Park Geun-hye first.

In 2014, a 78-year-old pastor was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for falsely claiming in an online video clip that President Park had sexual intercourse with former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The ministry vowed to improve the country’s policing of fake news by amending laws.

“Damage from fake news has grown so serious that [the ministry] thought it could no longer sit idly by,” an official from the ministry said Tuesday on the condition of anonymity. “Whether or not the news is fake can be proven by prosecutors, and whether or not the fake news is a case of defamation can be fully proven by precedents.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]