[EDITORIAL] Set the Record Straight Now

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[EDITORIAL] Set the Record Straight Now

The political row between the ruling party and the opposition over the media tax audit has shifted in an unexpected direction. The opposition claims the current tax audit is meant to muzzle the press, the ruling party is striking back by raising doubts over the 1994 media tax audit, which took place under the leadership that is now in the opposition, claiming that the scale was reduced, the results manipulated and documents illegally shredded. In such an atmosphere, the entire news business is taking a hit. It is totally unfathomable why the misdeeds of the government and political community are repeatedly passed to the press.

In particular, the Millennium Democratic Party's approach to the 1994 audit makes us wonder whether its primary goal is to find out the truth. Floor Leader Lee Sang-Soo raised suspicions that some key documents listing news companies' irregularities were discarded during the transition of power in early 1998. He then asked for a parliamentary inquiry. Ahn Jung-nam, commissioner of the National Tax Service, strongly hinted at the possibility of data being destroyed, but he failed to reveal any details.

If the tax authorities' investigation documents had been illegally discarded, the primary responsibility rests with the NTS. How could such a thing have happened unless the NTS was utterly lax? Instead of feigning ignorance over the affairs of the past government, the tax authorities should have investigated how the documents were destroyed, held those responsible accountable and come up with measures to prevent a recurrence. Since the doubts of the public are growing, the proper thing to do is reveal who threw the papers out, why they did it and by what means. But, the head of the NTS has assumed an equivocal attitude, as the ruling party's floor leader discloses details day after day. Can we believe that the NTS commissioner is really doing his job? Is he and the floor leader conspiring to leak information and back up each other? The NTS should embark on an internal probe and disclose which documents remain, what data have disappeared and which parts have been altered. Then, if suspicions still linger, it would be correct that a parliamentary inquiry should follow.

The Millennium Democratic Party has come forward with a demand for a parliamentary inquiry in a bid to eliminate the matter as a major political issue because of what former President Kim Young-sam said in Tokyo. He said the outcome of the tax audit was not made public during his presidency because the results were so grave that had they been revealed, the very "existence of the media" would have been called into question. His statement is extremely vague, giving rise to an impression that all the press is illegal and immoral. It is necessary to find out exactly what he meant.

Nevertheless, the Millennium Democratic Party seems preoccupied with turning the matter into a political issue, rather than delving into the truth, and the MDP appears to rally behind the NTS, which is pressing ahead with the tax audit. We cannot help but wonder whether the ruling party has an ulterior motive, in particular, justifying the ongoing tax audit, in painting all news companies as a hotbed of corruption. The NTS commissioner has explained that the things that happened in the past cannot be investigated, but it only gives the impression that he is passing internal missteps to someone else. The first order of the day is for the government to provide detailed explanations as to how tax audit papers were destroyed.

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