Public Will Judge the Merits of the List

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Public Will Judge the Merits of the List

Since the JoongAng Ilbo, in its Tuesday edition, published "a list of recipients" of National Security Planning Agency fund which was allegedly distributed to New Korea Party (the predecessor of Grand National Party) candidates during the 1996 election campaign, the confrontation between the ruling and opposition camps has grown more serious.

The Grand National Party suspected that "the list was made public as a political tactic," while the Millennium Democrats demanded that the "embezzled public funds be returned to the national treasury." The noise of the fracas was heard throughout both parties, in the Blue House and in the press room of the Public Prosecutor''s Office.

While the political situation had already been teetering on the brink of upheaval with the controversies over party-switching, the repercussions over the list heightened political tension.

Imagine the frame of mind of the JoongAng Ilbo team of reporters who first got access to the list. Some of the other media accused the JoongAng Ilbo of having been taken in by a plot to intentionally leak the roster of recipients. Actually, however, news gatherers from all the media had been stalking the list since last week, and the JoongAng Ilbo reporters just happened to get their hands on it first, much to the dismay of the accusers.

Even after our reporters acquired the document, they fretted hard over whether to publish it because of the delicate implications it involved and because of its potential destructiveness.

Diverting ANSP funds to political campaigns is a misappropriation of taxpayers'' money, and the nation''s highest intelligence agency stepped disgracefully out of line in committing such an act. On the other hand, it comes at a time when the ruling camp is accused of trying to suppress the opposition by using party-switching maneuvers to create a dominant coalition. There are also some voices asking why President Kim Dae-jung''s suspect campaign funds are not being investigated to make things even for both sides.

Under the circumstances, the JoongAng Ilbo decided to go ahead and publish the list, letting the public judge the righteousness of that decision. Even if some see this as a threat to GNP President Lee Hoi-chang, the JoongAng Ilbo firmly believes that this is one of the "labor pains" our society must go through in order to give birth to a political culture that fosters fair elections and clean campaign funding. The people''s right to know was another primary consideration.

The publication of the list makes all too clear the "dirty-money" connections that existed between the ruling party and the ANSP. The absence from the list of Prime Minister Lee Han-dong, who was a leader of the New Korea Party at the time, and Kim Yoon-whan, president of the Democratic People''s Party, raises new questions.

This writer spoke with a journalism professor at one of our universities about the effectiveness of this kind of reporting. The professor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, "Whether he gets the scoop or not, a reporter must be faithful to the truth of the case he is covering."

The writer is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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