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Prosecutors say PD Diary deliberately twisted facts

July 30,2008
Prosecutors have concluded that MBC’s current affairs show “PD Diary” intentionally misstated the risk of mad cow disease from American beef in its controversial April episode, and they are asking members of the program’s production team for an explanation.

Following a complaint filed by the Agriculture Ministry last month, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office began investigating whether the April 29 episode of PD Diary defamed the minister and negotiators who had struck a deal with Washington to open up the Korean market to a wide range of U.S. beef.

Prosecutors yesterday sent a 140-page inquiry to MBC and made the questions public.

The inquiry was quickly turned down. Kim Hyeong-tae, a lawyer representing PD Diary, told YTN TV network that his clients will not answer the prosecution’s questions because there is no legal basis that they can be forced to do so.

In a press conference, Choi Gyo-il, a senior prosecutor from the district office, said an indictment can be filed if the investigation finds enough evidence.

“We cannot yet make that decision,” Choi said. Choi urged MBC to cooperate with the prosecutors, criticizing the broadcaster for saying the issue involved freedom of the press.

“The prosecutors did not use force to investigate the broadcaster because we respect press freedom,” Choi said. He continued that MBC must cooperate despite any negative impact to the broadcaster.

“MBC should also reveal those who were behind the intentional errors in translation and what their motives were,” Choi said.

“By reviewing U.S. media reports and other documents, questioning translators who participated in the production of the episode in question and interviewing experts, we have found that most parts of the show’s report on mad cow disease were edited to distort the facts,” said Prosecutor Lim Su-bin, who is in charge of the probe.

According to Lim, PD Diary is suspected of intentionally exaggerating the risk of mad cow disease by showing images of downer cows, which are not necessarily infected with the disease. A downer cow is a live cow that cannot walk.

“While there are at least 59 reasons that can cause this condition, PD Diary intentionally manipulated the translation to convince the viewers that downer cows are infected with mad cow disease,” Lim said.

Prosecutors also said PD Diary is suspected of intentionally distorting its interview with Robin Vinson, an American woman whose daughter Aretha had died of a rare brain disease. The interview’s Korean-language subtitles showed the mother as saying, “According to MRI results, I was told there was a possibility that Aretha had vCJD [human mad cow disease].” The term she had actually used was CJD or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

While vCJD, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is commonly known as the human form of mad cow disease, CJD and vCJD are two different diseases. Classic CJD is a disease that occurs spontaneously in about one in a million people each year and is not the same as mad cow disease, nor is it caused by beef consumption.

The interview was immediately followed by footage of Vinson’s doctor, who said MRI results cannot be wrong.

Prosecutors charged that PD Diary intentionally edited the doctor’s comments so that they seemed to say his patient died from vCJD.

Prosecutors said PD Diary also didn’t disclose that Vinson had received gastric bypass surgery three months before her death and that she could have been exposed to CJD during that procedure.

Prosecutors said other U.S. media, which originally reported the case, raised a variety of possible causes for her death ranging from vCJD, CJD, other complications from the surgery and kidney failure.

The program also provided the questionable assertion that Koreans are more vulnerable to human mad cow disease, prosecutors said.

Another assertion questioned by prosecutors came when the program said, “Eating only 0.1 gram of the special risk material will infect a human and with 100 percent fatality.”

The Blue House did not comment on the prosecution’s announcement, saying that it will wait for the investigation’s outcome.

“The probe is still ongoing, so it is inappropriate to discuss it right now,” an official at the presidential office said. “This is a high-profile issue, and we believe the prosecutors will investigate it fairly and thoroughly.”

Political parties are split over the prosecution’s announcement. Calling the investigation “a political probe against PD Diary,” the Democratic Party said the prosecutors did nothing more than repeat some conservative media’s criticism of the program.

The Grand National Party said it is time for PD Diary to “tell the people why and how it had distorted the truth.”



By Ser Myo-ja Staff Reporter [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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