[FORUM]More snares ahead for reporters

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[FORUM]More snares ahead for reporters

Now that some journalists have become targets of criticism in the Yoon Tae-shik scandal, those of us in the profession are feeling under a lot of pressure. No matter whether they are colleagues of the disgraced journalists or work somewhere else entirely, reporters and editors feel a sense of shame and concern. I will not forget the bitter feeling that came over me when my wife asked, after reading the newspaper, if I were going to be all right.

While I was having dinner with some guests, the topic of conversation turned from the Yoon Tae-shik scandal to misconduct committed by journalists. Some people around the table got agitated; one tactful soul interrupted that conversation and tried to change the subject, but the awkward transition only made me feel more awkward.

Though my wife was sympathetic, I could almost feel the suspicious glances of the other guests boring into me. Other newspaper readers and television news viewers probably are staring the same way at journalists.

In the past, reporters and editors have been involved in scandals ranging from real estate speculation, including receiving illegal priority to buy apartments, to stock and cash bribery. Journalists have a responsibility to report the truth fairly and to stay faithful to their duty and ethics; some have been censured for violations of that code. Most media agencies have suffered from internal tribulations from time to time. There is also a feeling in media circles that there is no one to blame but themselves for those problems.

Over time, journalists' attitudes changed and professional ethical standards were strengthened. Nevertheless, very tricky problems continued to occur. Though times have changed, we have not changed as much as we could have or should have.

Journalists must answer why they cannot adapt to the changes required by global standards even while they emphasize global standards in their writings meant for their fellow countrymen. Journalists can no longer remain silent about the ethical problems in the profession.

I remember an incident in a blowfish restaurant in Busan nine years ago. Kim Ki-choon, a former justice minister, spoke the naked truth about the weaknesses of journalists in a rapid-fire speech. Above all, Mr. Kim said that it was easy to bribe high-ranking journalists, and those journalists would then write glowingly about the person who gave him money. The controversial Yoon Tae-shik scandal involved an almost identical plan of bribing journalists at large media outlets. Mr. Kim laid bare the "shameful culture of journalism" that still exists. The easy collapse of journalistic ethics may be attributable to the habit of justifying old methods of reporting.

The problem was compounded by greed. People who are close to the journalists involved in the latest scandal came up with excuses for them, such as saying they did what they had to do to promote business and link advertising with reporting. Stiffer competition among media agencies, the ethical lapses that that competition fosters, and an economic slump that hurts the bottom lines of media firms all contribute to an increase of unethical reporting practices.

Upstart companies, blustering promoters and persons who cannot suppress their desire for power and success take advantage of such weaknesses of journalists at every opportunity.

There is a remorseful feeling that the line between what is allowed and what is not in reporting is too vague. There must be detailed discussions to establish clear barriers between reporting and stock investments, reporting and advertisements and reporting and business. There must be agreement on principles of transparency.

Korean culture emphasizes regional and family ties, alumni relationships and favoritism too much to upgrade Korean journalism to American and European standards and to match their ethical principles. It is not simple to sever personal ties.

Ethical principles that are not fleshed out with details and are difficult to live up to can also damage the dignity of Korean journalism. Most of all, the media must be more honest with readers and viewers. With elections nearing, Korean journalists are in danger of being seduced again. Our media have reached a point of agony at ethical boundaries.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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