May 27, 2020

South Korea: RSF calls on tobacco giant KT&G to drop abusive suit against journalist

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on South Korean tobacco manufacturing giant KT&G to drop a lawsuit aimed at intimidating a journalist and calls for regulatory reform protecting the media against such abuses.

The Seoul Central District Court recently granted South Korean tobacco maker KT&G (Korean Tobacco & Ginseng Corporation) its request for a provisional seizure of the salary of Kang Jin-gu, a journalist working for local daily Kyunghyang Shinmun, in response to a civil lawsuit filed by the firm against him and his employer after they published an article that the firm disapproved of. This move has sparked sharp objections from the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK), who denounced this "new type of attempt to muzzle journalism".

“It is imperative that KT&G drop this abusive suit immediately,” says Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau, who also called for “regulatory reforms to ensure the freedom of journalists to carry out their investigations without fear of legal repercussions”.

The article that led to the suit reported on a commercial dispute involving KT&G and one of its affiliates. Two days after publication, the tobacco manufacturing giant filed a claim against the newspaper and the journalist, further singling out Kang by requesting the seizure of half of his salary until a provision of 200 million won (150,000 euros) was reached, which amounts to more than three years the average reporter’s salary. 

South Korea is ranked 42nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.