KOREA: Web portals alert over libel suits

Under changes to News Arbitration Law, web portals such as Naver and Daum will be held more accountable for the news stories they post, but blogs and members-only web communities will not be affected

The Korea Times
Friday, August 7, 2009

By Kim Tong-hyung

Web site hosts such as Naver (www.naver.com) have been establishing themselves as next-generation media companies. Now, they will be regulated as such, too.

According to the country's revised News Arbitration Law that went into effect Friday, major online destinations such as Naver and Daum (www.daum.net) will be more accountable for the news stories they publish. They are subject to the laws of libel that brings them in line with traditional media.

The law also affects Internet protocol television (IPTV) channels, currently operated by telecommunications companies KT, SK Broadband and LG Dacom. Blogs and member-only Web communities, however, will not be affected by the new rules and nor will the online news sections on the Web sites of government organizations.

"Web portals are not news organizations that report and publish their own news stories, but nonetheless, they have an important role in the digital distribution of news. They also greatly influence the shaping of public opinion by choosing which stories to use and which not, and also deciding on the rating of stories," said an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

"It's obvious that Web portals have just as much influence as any news organization, and there is a need to provide legal grounds for compensation for those who might suffer from slander or misinformation from stories published online. However, there is no reason to make personal areas such as blogs or Web cafes accountable."

Naver and Daum are among 14 Web portals subject to the revised arbitration law, joining 15 Internet-based news companies, such as Money Today (stock.mt.co.kr), and 20 Web sites of traditional news organizations.

Popular Web sites that have more than 100,000 daily visitors will be required to save the data of their online news layout for at least six months. This includes the images of their main pages and news sections.

The Web sites will also need consent from the original news source when they seek to modify content they didn't produce themselves.

After being pounded in the blogosphere, first for its decision to resume U.S. beef imports and more recently for its supposed ineptitude in economic policies, the Lee Myung-bak government has been considering more ways to impose rules on Internet users.

The decision to make Internet sites liable to the same restrictions as newspapers and televisions has touched off controversy, with critics claiming that the law could be possibly abused to suppress legitimate online freedom of speech.