SEOUL South Korea cut Internet connections to a
string of ministry press rooms on Thursday, the latest step in
a drive to close down what it says are collusive and cosy
The aim of herding Seoul's journalists into a few
centralised briefing rooms has provoked outrage in media
organisations and brought accusations that the government is
trying to muzzle the press. Some reporters have boycotted the
new press rooms and staged sit-down strikes at their old desks.
"We have given enough time to vacate the current press
rooms, which have been allocated for other uses," an official
at the Government Information Agency said.
"We will be taking the steps (to shut them down) tomorrow."
Government officials said they wanted reporters out of the
old press rooms by the end of the working week.
"Whether you agree with the policy or not, this is not the
right way to go about it," a reporter for one domestic
newspaper said. "You don't do this even when you're trying to
evict a tenant who didn't pay his rent."
South Korea said it wants to make the government more open
by allowing for greater media access at the new briefing rooms
and setting up live Internet broadcasts of news conferences.
It argues the old system led to a collusive system between
bureaucrats and journalists, and among journalists themselves.
Most South Korean ministries had separate press rooms where
domestic media stationed reporters throughout the day and who
form informal but exclusive press clubs.
The government campaign began with bitter words from the
country's unpopular president, Roh Moo-hyun. He told a cabinet
meeting in January that "reporters sit around" press rooms and
conspire to write critical stories about his government.
Leading presidential contenders to replace Roh, who has
only a few months left in office, have said they would restore
the old briefing rooms if they take power.
The government has bowed to pressure and rolled back a
provision in new regulations that would require bureaucrats to
first seek permission before they could meet reporters. But
many critics say the new system will still severely limits
The Korea News Editors' Association has called the entire
plan "a means to oppress media freedom" while other critics say
it harkened back to the days when South Korean dictators
censored the media.