[EDITORIAL] The Truth About the Media AuditWas the tax audit of news companies a suppression of the press based on a well-prepared plan? This question was the main theme of the controversy over the tax audit by the National Tax Service, which mainly targeted the so-called Big Three newspapers: JoongAng, Chosun, and Dong-a, which have criticized the policy failures of the government and demanded policy alternatives.
The government has stoutly denied such accusations, saying the tax audit was done out of tax justice. The government's argument, along with calls for press reform from civic groups, has trapped the press, which is in fact the victim of suppression by the government.
Recently a new book was published that testifies graphically that the tax audit of JoongAng was a result of a premeditated plan by the government to suppress the press; the audit was an ugly conspiracy by the government and was based on a naked political intention to suppress the newspaper.
The book, "Why Kim Dae-jung Failed to Clear Up Regional Conflicts" was written by Sung Han-yong, the head of a political reporting team at the Hankyoreh newspaper.
We can see how much the political heavyweights of this administration hate the press and how resolute they were in their plan of tax audits in the words of a senior presidential secretary quoted in the book. In November 1998, he said, "We will beat the hell out of the JoongAng Ilbo and the Segye Times soon. We will deal with the Chosun Ilbo in two or three months. We will turn the papers upside down with inheritance taxes levied by the National Tax Service."
He is quoted further: "This is going to be a vital war of life and death. It would be disastrous if this plan is leaked," and "Soon we will start the press reform that the Hankyoreh persistently demanded. Do not write a story until then." Such words clearly contradict the government's assurances that the audit was not political and the Blue House was not involved.
Another shocking aspect of the book is its description of blatant regionalism. According to the book, a senior political figure said, "High officials of the National Tax Service have already been replaced with people from the Jeolla provinces. They are the only trustworthy ones."
We get the impression that there was a distorted passion by the government in the tax audit. No wonder that Ahn Jung-nam, former head of the National Tax Service, said he was auditing the press with the same spirit that dissidents toppled the Syngman Rhee regime in 1960.
The author was a Blue House reporter, but the book is filled with anonymous sources, so we cannot conclusively prove that the tax audit was based on a Blue House plot.
But the book confirms in general what we have said about the audit: The government mapped out a scheme to suppress the press from August to November in 1998. The means to do it was a tax audit by the National Tax Service, and one of the main targets was alleged inheritance tax evasion. Meanwhile, the government, along with some civic groups, made efforts to divide the press by labeling some of them as anti-reform.
As for JoongAng, the plot was carried out almost exactly as planned.
The ramifications of the book are serious. Already it has become a new issue for political attack, and the public's curiosity over the truth behind the media probe is mounting. The anonymous senior presidential secretaries and political heavyweights quoted in the book should confirm or deny the quotes.