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MBC ordered to make apology for beef shows

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July 18,2008
The Korea Communications Standards Commission has ordered Munwha Broadcasting Corporation to apologize to viewers for alleged violations of fairness and objectivity in two episodes on MBC’s “PD Diary” about the safety of American beef, aired on April 29 and May 13.

Ordering an apology to viewers is the most severe punishment the commission hands down.

The two episodes of “Urgent Report! Is U.S. beef safe from mad cow disease?” helped spark months of nationwide protests against resumption of U.S. beef imports.

After more than seven hours of intense debate Wednesday, the commission decided to order PD Diary to air “an apology to viewers” for violating several broadcasting standards involving at least six mistakes in English to Korean translation.

For example, the commission said, PD Diary reported that a young American woman, Aretha Vinson might have died of vJCD (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) in the subtitles of an interview with her mother, Robin Vinson.

The mother had actually said that her daughter died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), not vCJD.

The distinction is critical. The disease vCJD is the human form of mad cow disease while CJD is a rare disease that spontaneously occurs in about one in a million humans each year. Though both are called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, their causes are distinct. People eating infected beef can contract vCJD.

Officials also said that when PD Diary aired views on American beef, it only included the opinions of the U.S. Consumers Union.

“Broadcasting has a duty to treat both sides fairly and air their opinions, not just one opinion from a specific group,” commission officials said. “Also, broadcasters are required be neutral and objective.”

The commission said PD Diary also violated a provision that calls for the quick correction of mistakes.

MBC says it is considering appeal ing the ruling.

Four PD Diary staff members also ignored a prosecution summons to appear at 2 p.m. yesterday. They called the summons suppression of the press. Prosecutors said that they will soon resummon them.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating whether the program defamed the Agriculture Ministry and its staff who negotiated the deal that reopened the Korean market to U.S. beef.

To aid their probe, prosecutors say they need to compare raw footage with what was aired in the episodes.

Meanwhile, a total of 115 business owners in the Gwanghwamun area ? the main venue for months of street protests against U.S. beef ? yesterday filed a class action suit against 11 main organizers of the rallies and the Korean government.

The owners, along with the group Lawyers for Citizens, which represents merchants affected by the rallies, said that they are seeking damages totalling 1.725 billion won ($1.7 million) for losses businesses sustained because of the demonstrations. “We hope that merchants who have suffered heavy damage will prevail,” said Lee Heon, a lawyer for Lawyers for Citizens. “Also, we hope that this legal action will prevent additional illegal demonstrations in the nation.”

According to a complaint filed with the Seoul Central District Court, each owner claims 15 million won in damages.

Meanwhile, the People’s Conference against Mad Cow Disease had announced another candlelight vigil yesterday to mark the 60th Constitution Day. But what would have been the 71st candlelight demonstration since May, to be held at Seoul City Hall Plaza, failed to take place.

The area was completely blocked off by about 10,000 riot policemen.

An anticipated march from the area to Sejongno and Taepyeongno downtown also failed to materialize due to the heavy police presence.


By Park Sang-woo Staff Reporter [spark@joongang.co.kr]



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