[INSIGHT]Learning From the Lunar Controversy

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[INSIGHT]Learning From the Lunar Controversy

I watched with great interest last weekend a TV program about a controversial suggestion that the U.S. government may have manipulated or fabricated images of the Apollo 11 spaceship lunar landing. That Apollo 11 astronauts set their feet on the moon is not in dispute, but the program investigated suggestions that Washington made up several of the dramatic pictures to generate maximum enthusiasm for the Apollo program, which was not only a scientific project but a Cold War ideological struggle as well, and consumed an astronomical budget. I found the following two things especially interesting about the program.

First, the attitude of the Korean television production team, which did not try to drive the program to a black or white conclusion, but looked into the controversy from various angles.

Second, the common perception among American citizens that they must continually doubt their government, to check for and unearth possibilities of manipulation of truth or conspiracy among the powerful.

The attitude of the media not to twist an issue to their own advantage but to attempt to illustrate it as it stands, and the social concept that the primary object of scrutiny must be the government, are points worthy of consideration when it comes to gaining a positive result from the recent domestic dispute between the government and the media.

In other words, the essence of the media reform must be "integrity of reporting." By distinguishing between facts and assertions, we can greatly improve the quality of public debate. The media should be checked, but doing it by means of government regulations is very risky.

This brings me back to the suggestion that images of the landing on the moon were manipulated. If a media organ decides an issue is worth covering, the first thing it must do is to separate truth from allegation. This is fundamental.

If the media publishes a story under a sensationalist headline such as "Moon Fabrications Revealed," or, at the other extreme, insists that "Landing on the Moon Was Confirmed," then although either side can claim to be reporting the facts, but both of them have failed to show a balanced picture.

Let us imagine if the report dealt not with Apollo 11 but with President Kim Dae-jung's visit to Pyongyang. An assertion that the visit was fabricated would create deep fissures in our society. Then it would become not a matter of misreporting but an ideological battle.

It would be a different matter if, for example, the evidence that the Apollo landing was manipulated was reported without bias but then differing arguments were made about the matter by various media; such as, "We think the government wasted money and tried to deceive the people in the Cold War era," or "The lunar landing was a necessary national project given that our nation was head-to-head with the U.S.S.R., and it is understandable that some pictures were manipulated."

Proponents of both arguments should not resort to shouting matches, but should state their own cases clearly and win the support of those who agree.

In many cases, neither those who disseminate nor those who receive information succeed in distinguishing fact from assertion. That is why I felt shame rather than anger observing the recent arguments on media reform. Allowing the government to take the lead in reform is naive. It is equally naive to believe that payment of unpaid taxes and regulations governing unfair business practices by media firms will guarantee zero conflicts with the administration and fair competition in the future.

We often focus on the peripheral aspects of an issue, not the essence of the matter. The disputes over media reform reflect the sophistication, of lack of sophistication, of public debate.

Some engaged in heated debates and some argue about laws. I feel ashamed about the value of this debate in the first place.


The writer is the chief economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil

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