[OUTLOOK]The Press Continues to Cannibalize ItselfIs there such a thing as "the press" in our society today? Would it be an exaggeration if I were to say that our society's news media are crumbling? Many are saying the media are falling apart, and their role in society will be diminished eventually. I believe there is much truth in these statements.
Such proclamations are first due to the external shock of the recent tax probe and imposition of huge additional taxes on media companies. But the other serious problem lies in the conflict and wrangling between the media themselves. The criticism and denunciations the broadcasting companies threw on the press and the criticism flying between newspaper companies have developed to the extent that the mudslinging has reached the point of no return. I do not understand how the media companies involved plan to cope with the aftermath.
The media seem to be filled with not only antipathy and distrust, but hatred, disgust and bitterness for one another. Competition and criticism between media companies is necessary. However, there should be certain rules. Philosopher John Stuart Mill advocated in "On Liberty" almost complete freedom of the press. But at the same time, he stated that the media should take actions with a gentle and equitable attitude. Mill contends the following. First, when stating an opinion, even if it is correct, one should maintain an attitude acknowledging that it may be opposed and severely criticized. Second, one should not condemn as unethical someone who claims the opposite of what one expresses. People who have opinions that are unpopular are usually reviled, because they are in the minority. As a result, few are willing to treat them justly. Usually, opinions held by a minority, not a majority, of the people are attacked. But the minority should be protected. Last, one should silently observe who are the ones opposed to the opinion and what their counter-opinions truly are. One should not exaggerate facts that are detrimental to opponents or hide facts that are favorable to opponents. Are the above rules being followed in the war of criticism between media companies?
Not only the virtues mentioned above are necessary for the press, but also more active tolerance and generosity are called for. The free press is the end product of tolerance, because people in a democratic society have different opinions on what is good. A democratic society is a pluralistic society. A democratic society is a world in which different kinds of people must live together peacefully. Therefore, a democratic society mandates patience since accommodating all kinds of people certainly is not easy.
In other words, a democratic press is the end result of tolerance, because a democratic press can not possibly exist if listening to others' opinions with tolerance was not the rule. Without tolerance, a free press and democracy or living together in harmony would be impossible.
A brutal atmosphere encompasses Korea's media. Eyes are filled with bloody revenge and voices have gotten so rough that they are threatening. This should be stopped once and for all. Otherwise, this condition will lead to self-destruction of the entire media industry. Victory after the legitimate role and function of the media has been destroyed loses all meaning. The legitimacy of our press is being demolished from its foundation because of the acrimonious developments. Traditionally, the press served to endow legitimacy to an opinion or a policy.
However, the Korean press these days is fast losing its own legitimacy. If this is true, what can replace the role of the press? In the end, only a changed press can. Some generosity in their judgment, some patience toward each other and an effort to understand each other even in disagreement is needed. In the case of the religious wars throughout modern history, it was tolerance, not power, that ended the vicious cycle. It was tolerance that gave birth to peace. Modern history proves this.
Criticism and conflict among media companies are good.
However, they should not disdain each other in the process. This is not graceful criticism.
Disparaging words only give birth to bitterness and revenge. Don't we all know this only too well? Broadcasting companies should not criticize the press and newspaper companies should not condemn each other in a way that tarnishes history. The future is built on the judgment of history.
The writer is a professor of communications at Korea University.
by Lim Sang-won