[INSIGHT]Voice of the People Who Agree With Me

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[INSIGHT]Voice of the People Who Agree With Me

With the Declaration of June 29, 1987, by Roh Tae Woo, then the president of ruling Democratic Justice Party, the way to direct presidential election was opened to us.

The biggest question after the declaration was whether Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam would compromise to put forth only one presidential candidate to represent the opposition groups. In other words the question was who would give up his candidacy for the other. Lee Chul-seung, a renowned politician and one time political rival to the two Kims, was pessimistic about the possibility that they would agree to such a plan, saying "I swear to God that it will not happen in my lifetime." Many people, however, believed their numerous pledges that "We will cooperate not only until the day of democratization, but also thereafter." That was a naive expectation.

In the middle of the two-Kims' discussion of a unified candidacy, Kim Dae-jung suddenly headed to his hometown, saying, "I will ask the people." It was his first visit since he had returned to Seoul from his exile in the United States. I cannot forget the ecstatic mood of the people in Kwangju, when I, as a reporter, accompanied him to the city. It was like the release of their rage accumulated through military dictatorship and the Kwangju Democracy Movement.

On his way back to Seoul, as soon as the Saemaeul express train started, Mr. Kim called a news conference and declared, "I confirmed blazing support for me." All the accompanying reporters, including me, had to get off the train right after that short sentence. The evening papers carried a prominent headline saying "Kim Dae-jung Announces His De Facto Candidacy for President."

Prodded by this, Kim Young-sam immediately headed down to Suyeongman in Pusan. Approxi-mately 1 million people gathered there - the biggest public rally until that time. Another support for another person came from another people in another city.

At a stroke, by demonstrating the support of the people from their respective home provinces, the two Kims unchained themselves from their promises to the people and from the expectations aroused by such statements as "declaration not to run" and "pledges to come up with one candidacy." But the subsequent election result clearly showed that their support was from less than half of the people. As a result, the two Kims helped to prolong the military government that they were supposed to topple. The despair and outrage felt at that time still linger.

I do not say this to criticize their broken promise of settling on a single candidacy. I am recalling the incident to emphasize that similar behavior persists even today, when public figures point only to public opinion that suits their aims and serves their benefit.

President Kim Dae-jung said in his Dialogue with the People in March, and again in a recent interview with the Korean edition of Newsweek, that "80 percent of the people and 90 percent of employees of media industry want to reform the press." Press reform refers to a series of policies such as revival of stricter regulation of the press and tax probes into newspapers. It cannot be overemphasized that the press needs to be reformed. The issues are the direction and content of the reform, as well as who will lead it.

However, putting aside those questions, anyone if simply asked whether or not press reform is needed, would naturally answer yes. Of course, some would certainly agree with the government's policies of transparent newspaper management and cleaning up the newspaper market. Equally certainly, not all of them would agree with the government. Some would ask for comprehensive improvement of the quality of the press, including one-sided reporting and sensationalism by broadcasting companies. Some would feel uncomfortable with the government's intervention in the press.

What if the people were asked about the press reform after they were informed of the ruling camp's intention behind its press policies, of the anti-market factors in the policies and the possibility of infringement on press freedom? I would bet that negative answers to the question would be overwhelming.

In the government-driven discussions on the press reform, the toxic factors of the government intervention in the press are altogether dismissed, while some negative aspects of newspapers are emphasized. Claiming that the opinions of some civic organizations mirror those of the whole population is exactly the same behavior that was shown in 1987's political landscape, when the two Kims claimed the regionally biased support they got from their respective home provinces as representative of the whole people's support.

A consistent barrage of one-sided criticism, blared by pro-government media at particular newspapers reminds me of Nazi propaganda tactics. Hitler said in his book, "Mein Kampf," that tenacious propaganda would be able to turn hell into heaven, heaven into hell. In the recent government motivated campaign "kill three major newspapers," there are some semblances of Nazis propaganda tactics.

Democracy based on popular opinion should start with respecting the social reality that there are various opinions. To claim some groups' opinion as the view of the public as a whole, or to steer public opinion in a certain direction by taking advantage of some civic groups, amounts to distortion of public opinion, not respect for it.

If politics are conducted based on distorted opinions, it will lead to a distorted result. We experienced the consequencies of it in 1987, when the democratization forces lost the presidential election to the military dictatorship.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin

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