Newspaper article International New York Times

Seoul Court Rules in Favor of Journalist from Japan ; Article with Park Rumors Was Protected by Press Freedom, Ruling Says

Newspaper article International New York Times

Seoul Court Rules in Favor of Journalist from Japan ; Article with Park Rumors Was Protected by Press Freedom, Ruling Says

Article excerpt

Tatsuya Kato was indicted over an article that suggested the president was slow to respond to a deadly ferry sinking because she might have been having a romantic encounter with a former aide.

A Seoul court on Thursday found a Japanese reporter not guilty of defaming President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, whose government has been accused of using legal channels to try to silence news reports unfavorable to her administration.

Tatsuya Kato, a former Seoul bureau chief of Japan's right-wing Sankei Shimbun newspaper, was on trial on the criminal charge of defaming Ms. Park with an online article published in August 2014 in which he cited what he called financial-industry rumors that Ms. Park may have been having a romantic encounter with a former aide as a ferry was sinking off southwest South Korea.

More than 300 people were killed in the ferry disaster in April 2014, and the high death toll was partly attributed to her government's failure to begin an efficient rescue operation. One question raised in the domestic news media at the time was whether Ms. Park was absent from her duty for seven hours on the day of the sinking.

"This is a natural verdict, and I have no other particular feeling," Mr. Kato said in a news conference after his acquittal.

He said that he suspected his indictment was politically motivated and that it was a "questionable" practice to "indict a reporter over his article about a most public figure like the president just because they didn't like it." Both Ms. Park's office and the former aide, Chung Yoon-hoi, have vehemently denied the rumors cited in Mr. Kato's report. They called it maliciously defamatory because they said the reporter made little effort to verify the rumors -- an argument shared by prosecutors when they indicted him in October 2014.

On Thursday, the Seoul Central District Court delivered an acquittal in a long-awaited ruling. …

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