[EDITORIALS]A candidate and the press

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[EDITORIALS]A candidate and the press

Roh Moo-hyun's comments on the press, disclosed by a rival presidential candidate, Rhee In-je, are shocking. Over dinner last August with five broadcast and print reporters, Mr. Roh reportedly said, "To implement strong reforms, the press must go in one direction...Should I become president, I will nationalize major newspapers." That is an unbelievable remark coming from a candidate running for the presidential nomination of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party. It represents a stronger challenge to democracy and the press than the military dictators' press policies. Mr. Roh's special public relations aide said, "The claims are preposterous. I don't know why they were fabricated, but shouldn't fabrications be at least loosely related to the truth?"

Even if Mr. Roh truly has such views about the press, there might be no point in discussing them at this stage in Korea's democratic development. But the quotes are substantially accurate. It is worrisome that a candidate who is performing strongly in the ruling party primary could say such things, even if he may have been exaggerating while drinking (not heavily, we understand) and dining with reporters at an explicitly off-the-record meeting. There is a problem with Mr. Roh's political philosophy.

He has often said, "We should be willing to confront the press," and has expressed particular antagonism against the conservative Chosun Ilbo. He has called publicly for limiting the degree of ownership by an individual or one family in media firms and separating newsrooms from media management. His remarks are consistent with that expressed philosophy.

The reporters have privately confirmed Mr. Roh's comments, but Mr. Roh's aides deny that he made them. The truth surrounding last summer's dinner and what Mr. Roh really said should be made public. That will probably happen soon; the five journalists who attended are still working. Mr. Roh should retract that denial and make clear the circumstances surrounding the comments. The controversy has grown too large for others to cover it up on his behalf and the issue at stake is too important. Although there was no heavy drinking that night, the alcohol that was consumed may have distorted some facts that may need correction. Mr. Roh should make the essence of his often pugnacious views about the press clear to the public.

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