Online Portals Face More Regulation, Deeper Scrutiny
By Kim Tong-hyung
Facing a tougher set of regulations that may endanger their business model based on unlimited freedom of expression, portals are introducing self-regulatory measures, albeit to little avail.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) has been looking to rewrite the country's media law and put major Internet sites under the same regulatory framework of news organizations, meaning more regulations and deeper scrutiny.
The draft was recently approved in a Cabinet meeting and now awaits deliberations at the National Assembly, which will have the backing of the governing Grand National Party (GNP).
Also to be debated by lawmakers are suggestions for stricter punishment for portals for cyber bullying and misinformation.
The provision is centered around the introduction of a ``cyber defamation'' law and also suggests Internet sites be mandated to block the publication of any article deemed as fraudulent or slanderous by a plaintiff during the 30-day arbitration period.
The KCC is also moving to limit anonymity on the Internet, mandating users to reveal their identities, either by revealing their real names or nicknames, to post comments on sites with more than 100,000 daily visitors.
``When approved, some of the laws will prove to be stingy punches to the Internet industry,'' said an executive from Daum (www.daum.net), the country's second-largest portal, who refused to be named.
``Strengthened regulations certainly raise uncertainties, and we are also concerned that excessive limitations on expression may lead to a decline in usage, and that may eventually affect our business. And I don't think there is any other country that is considering governing portals under the rules of media law,'' he said.
Internet companies reluctantly admit to the need for establishing a code of conduct for Internet behavior, but insist that the process should be achieved through self-regulation, not through any kind of legal framework. And now they are determined to prove that the self-regulation model works.
In a news conference earlier this week, the country's largest Internet companies, including NHN, the operator of top portal Naver (www.naver.com), as well as Daum, Yahoo! Korea (www.yahoo.co.kr), and SK Communications, operator of the Cyworld (www.cyworld.clom) social networking service, announced the launching of a joint regulatory body.
The organization, joined by seven companies that also include KTH, operator of Paran (www.paran.com), Freechal (www.freechal.com) and Hanarodream (www.hanarodream.com), will operate a ratings committee from next year that will be empowered to sort malicious articles and copyright violations on Web sites.
The Internet companies plan to announce a comprehensive guideline for online postings and say they will continue to consult with the KCC and other organizations to maintain the objectivity of their monitoring efforts.
``The Internet companies creating a self-regulatory network will contribute in creating a healthy Internet culture and improve the convenience of users and protect their freedom of online expression,'' said Joo Hyeong-cheol, chief executive of SK Communications, which is a unit of mobile telephony carrier SK Telecom.
However, skeptics question whether the committee would be able decide quickly on whether an article should be accepted or deleted. There are also concerns that Internet companies, for fear of government regulations, would end up compromising the freedoms of Internet users themselves by deciding to impose on them the same rules of expression at different sites.