A court in South Korea yesterday issued a search warrant for the newsroom of TV Chosun in Seoul following efforts by a trainee working for TV Chosun to gather information about the recent opinion-rigging scandal reportedly involving members of the ruling Democratic Party as well as a party representative believed to be close to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The International Press Institute (IPI) was informed by sources in Korea that the trainee, who was carrying out a journalistic investigation into the scandal, is the subject of criminal charges and was detained yesterday after he took, and later returned, computer devices belonging to a Democratic Party member.

The search warrant reportedly grants authorities permission to search the trainee’s desk. After TV Chosun representatives informed police that the trainee did not have his own desk within the newsroom, police nevertheless insisted in carrying out the search.

“A police search in a newsroom is a very delicate matter, as the likelihood that it breaches the fundamental right of journalists to protect their sources is very high”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “It is therefore vital that police searches of newsrooms be carried out only in very exceptional circumstances.”

She added: “In ordering such searches judges must take into consideration the necessity of such an act to the pursuance of justice and the potential damage that may result, considering the serious consequences this type of interference can have. Finally, any newsroom search must be very narrowly defined and be carried out in such a way that does not breach fundamental rights of press freedom, especially with regard to the protection of journalistic sources.”