[EDITORIALS]How Not to Be a Witness

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[EDITORIALS]How Not to Be a Witness

For all intents and purposes, the parliamentary hearing on the newspaper tax probe at the National Assembly has ended. The three newspaper owners declined to be witnesses at the hearing Friday, although they were formally asked to appear by the committee. They are Bang Sang-hoon, president and CEO of the Chosun Ilbo, Kim Byung-kwan, former honorary chairman of the Dong-a Ilbo and Cho Hee-jun, former chairman of the Kookmin Ilbo. Mr. Kim excused himself due to a chronic and worsening heart ailment. Mr. Bang and Mr. Cho declined to show up because they said being witnesses at the hearing would influence their upcoming trials.

A parliamentary hearing is the most important function of the National Assembly. It is where the lawmakers on behalf of the people thoroughly look into and supervise the executive's work of the year. It is the duty of the people when one is summoned as a witness to a National Assembly hearing, to be present at the hearing and answer questions posed by the lawmakers truthfully and sincerely.

Of course, witnesses can decline to appear at the hearings. However, they have to have a just and legitimate reason. A chronic and worsening heart ailment seems legitimate. But to say that an appearance at the hearing would influence a trial later on does not, in fact, seem right.

Don't they realize that Lee yong-ho and Yeo Un-hwan appear as witnesses every day at the other hearing of the National Assembly, although the pair are facing trials and are under arrest, just as the two owners of the newspapers? Furthermore, the newspaper owners were requested as witnesses by the consensus of the ruling and opposition parties. In that sense, they can be criticized for declining to meet the demands of the people.

The people have shown great interest in the hearing because they expect to find out whether the comprehensive tax audit of newspapers was done to muzzle the press. The so-called Big Three - JoongAng, Chosun and Dong-a - argued that the tax audit was meant to control the press, while the government argued it was meant to reform the press. The people expect the hearing to tell which side is right.

Whether or not there were attempts to muzzle the press by the government should be revealed without leaving even a hint of suspicion. It is their miscalculation if the government and the owners of the press think they can avoid telling the truth and put things behind them.

In that sense we feel sorry that the newspaper owners lost an opportunity to say what they have to say in front of the people by appearing at the hearing. Since there is a special committee on the press situation at the National Assembly, the factual truth about what happened between the government and the press surrounding the tax audit should be disclosed as soon as possible.
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