Ruling Shows Due Respect for Freedom of Expression
A local court's ``not guilty'' verdict on Web economic commentator, Park Dae-sung, Monday was natural and welcome for Korea's democracy.
The Seoul Central District Court rightly ruled that there was no proof that Park ``had the intention to undermine the public interest.'' ``It was also difficult to believe that Park knew some of his statements were false at the time he wrote them,'' Judge Yoo Young-hyeon added.
As Yoo himself stressed, this might be a strictly judicial judgment that took ``no external elements'' into account.
Jurists agree, pointing out that telling lies may be bad, but is not itself subject to prosecution and can turn problematic only when it is linked to specific crimes like fraud or libel. So there can be no crimes like ``spreading false information,'' much less in violation of the outdated Telecommunications Law. They also note that charges of ``hurting the public interests'' are too vague to criminalize someone, failing to meet the legal principle requiring clarity.
It is not hard to guess, then, what made the prosecution overstretch itself and indict Park who, under his more famous pen name of ``Minerva,'' made critical attacks on the government's poor handling of the economic crisis.
And the seriousness of this social comedy lies here, too: Which responsible government would waste foreign reserves of $2 billion because of what they say is a false economic prediction and try to take revenge on the ``instigator'' afterwards? Even funnier in this vein was its degrading of Park, who was found to be no economic guru but a jobless man with a two-year college diploma.
Expanding freedom of expression without letting it clash with other democratic values and interests has always been a difficult issue. But most advanced democracies have moved toward guaranteeing free speech more than protecting other individual rights, such as reputation, and far more than those of states or governments.
It was because democracy is not a form of politics but politics itself, and freedom of speech is at the very heart of democracy. Little wonder most foreign media, about which the Lee Myung-bak administration is rather unduly conscious, described this court battle as ``odd'' or ``raising profound questions'' about freedom of speech.
This is also why we urge the government to drop its plan to introduce ``cyber slander'' legislation, while leaving it to the Internet users' voluntary self-restraint until the Web culture of this country becomes more mature with the passage of time.
Disappointed with the acquittal of Park, some conservatives, including media outlets, stress the need for supplementing legal devices toward curbing free speech on the Internet. But they should know it will be no longer possible to discuss the social and cultural trend of the 21st century without encouraging the ``collective intellect'' of ordinary citizens formed in cyber space.
For all these reasons, we stand beside the nation's supporters of genuine democracy who hope that the higher courts will uphold this decision.