For the first time, an educational course on the protection system for corruption reporters and public interest whistleblowers was conducted for trainee journalists who just started their careers in the field of journalism.
On August 26 the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission of Korea (ACRC, Chairperson Pak Un Jong) conducted an educational course as part of the junior journalist training program run by the Korea Press Foundation (Chairperson Min Byung Wook) to help junior journalists have a good grasp of the whistleblower protection system and understand the necessity of it.
The Act on the Protection of Public Interest Reporters and the Act on the Prevention of Corruption and the Establishment and Management of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission provides that ‘no person shall inform another person of the personal information about a public interest reporter, etc. or any fact from which one can readily infer that he/she is a public interest reporter, etc., or disclose or report the same without his/her consent.’
Anyone who violates this duty to maintain confidentiality of public interest reporters will be punished by imprisonment with labor for not more than five years or by a fine not exceeding 50 million won.
Notwithstanding these provisions, in June this year, the real name and domicile of a whistleblower who filed a report with the ACRC concerning suspicions of illegal drug use involving celebrities and their alleged collusion with the police to cover up their offense were indiscreetly reported by media outlets.
The ACRC immediately ascertained the details of the press coverage disclosing the identity of the whistleblower and all relevant facts, and brought charges to the prosecution against a journalist, who first reported on the real name of the whistleblower, and another journalist, who released video footage of ringing the whistleblower’s doorbell, that they violated Article 12 of the Act on the Protection of Public Interest Reporters.
Given that a whistleblower may suffer irreversible damage if his/her identity is exposed through media outlets that have a strong social influence and high communicability, there arose a need to come up with effective preventive measures as well as ex-post punishment. The educational course conducted this time for trainee journalists was part of such preventive measures taken in cooperation with the Korea Press Foundation.
Based on previous experiences in operating the system of protection for corruption reporters and public interest whistleblowers, the ACRC introduced the gist of the overall protection system, including the significance thereof, the need for it, reporting methods, and handling process of reports. The ACRC also explained other similar cases of whistleblowers’ identity exposure and penalties that followed, etc. so as to promote awareness of protection of whistleblowers among the journalists attending the course.
The Director General of the Inspection and Protection Bureau Min Sung Sim said, “The educational course was meaningful in that the ACRC conducted it for journalists for the first time to boost awareness of protection for whistleblowers,” adding that “we decided to carry out such an educational course regularly, which will serve as a momentum for preventing recurrence of similar cases of identity exposure and reinforcing whistleblower protection.”
The head of the Media Promotion Office of the Korea Press Foundation Jeong Min said, “The freedom of speech needs to be guaranteed to protect and develop democracy, but at the same time, confidentiality of public interest whistleblowers should be also maintained to preserve the public interest values within society,” adding that “the Foundation will expand the journalist training programs to include educational courses on the ethics of news coverage, along with a course on the whistleblower protection.”
In the meantime, the ACRC on August 5 filed a complaint with the prosecution against a journalist, who reported on the real name and domicile of a whistleblower and the media company to which the journalist belongs, urging caution as other media companies made a subsequent report or quoted, while requesting the Korea Communications Commission and Journalist Association of Korea to come up with measures to prevent a recurrence of the problem, including the establishment of reporting standards or code of media ethics and implementation of journalist training, etc. for whistleblower protection.
Source: Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, Korea