Writer: Martin Weiser, Seoul
South Korea is extensively thought-about a profitable democracy — however there may be nonetheless a extreme lack of freedom in the case of something associated to North Korea.
70 years after the Korean Battle, visiting North Korea is prohibited, as is any communication with it. An internet firewall prevents entry to North Korean digital media. As a result of printed periodicals have been imported and put right into a library run by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) the affect of web censorship obtained little consideration.
However no new North Korean print publications have reached the South for 3 years now. This has successfully lower off South Koreans from most simple data on the opposite half of the peninsula. Fearing transmission of COVID-19, North Korea halted most commerce — together with the export of print publications — in early 2020. A handful of internet sites, that are all censored in South Korea, and the principle North Korean state TV channel, KCTV, aired through satellite tv for pc, have grow to be the one sources of data.
In July 2022, South Korea’s new conservative authorities immediately introduced that censorship could be lifted, however half a 12 months later nothing has modified. In October 2022, South Korea’s Minister of Unification Kwon Younger-se confessed that whereas he might think about North Korean TV in South Korean properties, he couldn’t think about lifting on-line censorship. TV content material from North Korea can already be watched on the Ministry of Unification library or on any of the bigger video-sharing platforms. But content material from censored North Korean web sites just isn’t obtainable to the general public anyplace.
The ministry argued that ending censorship would assist restore ‘ethnic homogeneity’, improve stress on North Korea to do the identical and assist South Koreans to ‘perceive’ the opposite facet. Kwon later added that residents have been now ‘mature’ sufficient to be uncovered to North Korean content material and there have been no authorized hurdles to finish censorship.
Not as soon as has the federal government admitted that the censorship is problematic below worldwide and home legislation. South Korea is a signatory to the Worldwide Conference for Civil and Political Rights. It ought to assure the ‘freedom to hunt, obtain and impart data and concepts of all types, no matter frontiers’.
Domestically, the Korea Communication Requirements Fee (KCSC) controls censorship of North Korean web sites.It abuses a clause of South Korea’s web legislation that enables for the censorship of ‘data with content material that commits an exercise’ prohibited by the Nationwide Safety Act.
The Nationwide Safety Act is notorious for stopping goal debate on North Korea, though a security clause was added in 1991 to restrict its software and prohibit the restriction of elementary human rights. Regardless of this, KCSC bans total North Korean web sites as an alternative of rigorously censoring particular content material. The Seoul Courtroom of Appeals reprimanded censors in 2017 for violating the precept of ‘minimal regulation’ however the KCSC refused to rethink its method.
Former South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s progressive authorities (2017–2022) received a majority in parliament however didn’t regulate laws regardless of the issue being apparent by early 2020. Although the unification ministry is amassing banned on-line texts, it didn’t create any alternative routes to entry them for the general public. The ministry claims copyright guidelines prevented it from placing content material collected on-line into its public library — however that sounds extra like an excuse. To date it might boast solely of a single profitable acquisition of recent supplies. In October, the ministry introduced it was capable of legally buy digital problems with a North Korean newspaper of 2020 and 2021 through China.
The present censorship coverage isn’t just legally questionable — additionally it is ineffective and contradictory. Anyone tech-savvy sufficient can get across the firewall — like many journalists do each day. No person is prosecuted for accessing North Korean web sites, though most South Koreans imagine they may very well be, and registering an account is taken into account authorized. As a result of Digital Non-public Networks are required to entry censored web sites it’s unattainable to observe who engages in prohibited ‘communication with the enemy’.
However there’s a surprisingly straightforward resolution.
South Korea want solely exempt the Japan-based Korea Press Media from web censorship or persuade the corporate to make its industrial database accessible to South Koreans offline someway. For greater than a decade, that database has launched digital variations of most important North Korean newspapers inside hours after they’re printed and dozens of journals in social and pure sciences with some delay.
Politicians and civil society in South Korea ought to have been conscious of this chance — their silence highlights the effectiveness of censorship. Even worse, South Koreans have but to publicly criticise the truth that their proper to entry North Korean data was severely violated for 3 years.
South Korea’s outdated censorship guidelines and COVID-19 have thrown evaluation of North Korea again to the Chilly Battle — barely any content material is out there to residents and there’s no finish in sight. Worldwide society mustn’t watch in silence and ignore this subject just like the US State Division’s most up-to-date human rights report on South Korea did. Finally, all will likely be worse off if South Korea’s coverage on North Korea is pushed by ignorance and misunderstandings, as an alternative of details and evaluation.
Martin Weiser is an impartial researcher based mostly in Seoul.