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Posted : 2008-08-19 18:06
Updated : 2008-08-19 18:06

Growing Responsibility

Internet Portals Should Be More Accountable for Services

Internet portals have enjoyed rapid growth over the past several years, emerging as powerful communication tools in cyberspace. According to statistics, 34.82 million South Koreans are using the Internet. The figure accounts for 76 percent of the nation's population aged six or older. And 97 percent of these Internet users visit Internet portals to read news, post comments, listen to music, watch movies, buy goods and search information.

It is no more surprising that the country's top Internet portals exercise tremendous influence on the opinions of the public, especially younger generations, with their news services. Among them are Naver (www.naver.com) and Daum (www.daum.net). These portals serve as search engines for news stores, becoming influential online media that keep abreast with major newspapers and broadcasters. Their influence culminated during candlelight rallies against U.S. beef imports in May and June.

Daum's Agora site played a pivotal role of promoting Web activism to oppose the April 18 beef trade deal with the U.S. Despite their function of being able to lead opinion among users, the portals are under criticism for spreading unconfirmed reports, groundless stories and slanderous remarks. In short, the portals have a double-edged sword. If we use the portals properly, we can enjoy a lot of benefits from online communications in an information society of the 21st century. But, these online sites might do more harm than good if we misuse or abuse them.

In this regard, the government and the governing Grand National Party have decided to apply newspaper reporting rules and regulations to Internet news portal services. They said Sunday that they have agreed to revise laws governing print and online newspapers in a move to let portals take more responsibility for their news distribution. The revision will allow those who suffer damage from false or libelous stories on Internet portals to file a complaint with the Press Arbitration Commission and seek compensation.

That is, the Lee Myung-bak administration is trying to include Internet portals in the category of online newspapers in order to hold them more accountable for the distribution of news, comments and other stories. In fact, the portals have so far been immune from their responsibility for spreading incorrect and slanderous stories. They not only serve as news search engines but also change headlines and edit stories. They even tend to disrespect the newsworthiness or trustworthiness of articles in a bid to look more sensational and attract more visitors.

However, Internet portals usually evade their responsibility, saying that they are just distributors of information, not producers of it. They should no longer focus on making money through irresponsible behavior. Last month, the government announced a plan to introduce a ``Cyber Defamation Law" to better protect privacy and prevent illegal use of personal information in cyberspace. The plan touched off controversy over freedom of expression on the Internet. Strengthened regulations on Internet portals and anti-defamation rules should not be used to infringe on freedom of expression.

But it is high time for operators of the portals and other Internet services to play fair and accept more responsibility in order to prevent the distribution of false and libelous content through online networks. This should serve as the minimum etiquette for them and their users in cyberspace.

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