The Real Source of Rumors

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The Real Source of Rumors

Rumors were part of the landscape during the military dictatorship. When the press was gagged and facts distorted, and there was absolutely no allowance for criticism at all, countless rumors were circulated. Many of the stories proved to be true, but in a basic sense they were a social vice, promoting distrust and instigating social unrest. Rumors are a lot like poisonous mushrooms: they grow and spread in dank, dark places. Rumors thrive in an abnormal, shady social atmosphere.

That said, we are rendered speechless at the government''s announcement that it will crack down on groundless rumors. Isn''t Korea an advanced nation of human rights, whose president has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize? The ruling Millennium Democratic Party has discussed steps to curb rampant hearsay, and the police have vowed to ferret out the sources.

Why has our society retreated to a form of authoritarian government era? Is it because the press lacks the ability to get at the truth? That could be one of the reasons, and the press should duly reflect on its capabilities and deeds. However, we believe that more fundamental reasons are the government''s murky policy-making and lax enforcement of the law. With the political, economic and social sectors shrouded in opacity, lingering questions grow into mistrust and suspicion, making for very fertile ground on which to breed all manner of rumors.

The ruling party''s leadership is largely concerned with two kinds of rumors. The first involves such talk as "the president bought the Nobel Prize with money" and "he also paid for the inter-Korean summit talks." The second is about the high-ranking ruling party officials who were allegedly involved in the successive illegal loan scandals. Something is definitely wrong with a society in which unverified rumors are so widespread. What is important, however, is to stop and reflect on why such rumors are born and how they manage to spread so robustly.

Since the June inter-Korean summit talks, most North Korea policies have been made behind closed doors. The South Korean people have many questions about what happened before and after the summit, but they have been fed only stories of the "brave feats" of President Kim''s entourage. The members of the entourage have offered diverse answers as to whether they knew beforehand that the North Korean Defense Commission chairman, Kim Jong-il would welcome them at the airport. We are still in the dark as to who is right and who is wrong. And just because North Korea expressed displeasure, the head of the South Korean Red Cross hurriedly left for Japan on the eve of the second-round reunion of separated families. When a North Korean patrol boat crossed the border, the government authorities hushed the story up. The general public wonders why things are handled in this fashion, but no clear explanation is forthcoming.

In addition to concerns about North Korea policy, questions abound regarding policies toward business conglomerates. When it appears that a few officials hastily settle matters behind the closed doors, it is natural that doubts and rumors arise. Before the government takes steps to crack down on rumors, it should ask itself whether transparent policy-making has been the norm and whether strict probes and strict enforcement of the law have been the order of the day. If rumors circulate even when the rule of law has been established, that is the fault of the general public. But as things stand in Korea today, it is urgent for the administration and the ruling party to recognize that the primary responsibility for our mistrustful society rests with them.
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