[EDITORIALS]Journalists must serve truth

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[EDITORIALS]Journalists must serve truth

The dispute over comments attributed to Roh Moo-hyun, a strong presidential candidate from the Millennium Democratic Party, about "nationalizing the press" has grown into a rough-and-tumble partisan controversy. Mr. Roh's rival, Representative Rhee In-je, charged that Mr. Roh made the comments over dinner with reporters last summer. The two opposition parties, the Grand National and the United Liberal Democrats, have chimed in, denouncing Mr. Roh's remarks as a "notion that challenges free liberal democracy." The controversy seems serious enough to affect the December presidential election.

Either Mr. Roh or Mr. Rhee will inevitably suffer a critical blow to his presidential bid. There is no escaping it. Mr. Roh maintains that the charges by Mr. Rhee are false and fabricated. Then, someone must be lying. Should it transpire that Mr. Rhee's account differs from the actual exchange between Mr. Roh and the reporters, people will question whether such a person should become president; and Mr. Roh, if he did not make the remarks, should be compensated for damages. But if his statements have been accurately represented, and he said, "The idea of nationalization never entered my mind," to evade responsibility, he will face scathing criticism and an eternal label as a liar.

Thus, the exchange that occurred last Aug. 1 in a restaurant in Yeouido, Seoul, should be fully and exactly reproduced. Since there were five journalists there, that should be no problem. It is regrettable that the five reporters decided Thursday not to disclose what was said. There is speculation that Mr. Roh requested anonymity, or that the reporters themselves agreed to embargo the table talk.

But circumstances have changed. Should the truth remain concealed, either a presidential hopeful will suffer false accusations or the voters must harbor searching questions about an oppressive view of the press held by a strong presidential candidate. Those who had dinner with Mr. Roh are none other than journalists. They are obliged to get at the truth of whether such crude remarks about the press were uttered. The obligation should go beyond any dilemma about disclosing comments heard off-the-record. The future of the nation and one man's political career are at stake. A journalist is a journalist only when he serves the truth.

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