Trying to Oppress the Press?

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Trying to Oppress the Press?

Yet more documents of unknown provenance concerning the media are being passed around. This time, the text describes an analysis of the editorial tone of 10 national dailies conducted from the beginning of the current administration until last November and looks at possible countermeasures. The title includes the phrase "The People's Government and Key Media Strategies" and the contents suggest that the document was produced by someone in the administration itself or by an organization with close ties to the ruling camp.

It is perfectly normal for those in political power to keep an eye on media trends and discuss ways of dealing with them. What we find problematic in these documents is their biased viewpoint and attitude that the media should be controlled. First of all, they divide the newspapers into sides, categorizing all those that carry articles critical of economic policy, favoritism in personnel management or North Korea policy as opposing the administration and siding with the opposition. Though they classify the papers' editorial tone as pro-administration, anti-administration, or neutral, they apply a standard that says there are only two kinds of newspapers, friends and enemies. In other words, if you're not on their side, you must be on the opposition's. This shows a complete lack of understanding of the function of the media.

The documents advise building a "defense wall against the media" as a "frontal attack" since early attempts to address grievances with "whiskey and cash" failed. This implies that the administration has been trying to control or at least sway the media from the very beginning and amounts to a confession that all that talk of freedom of the press was just so much posturing.

The last time this sort of document came to light, the government made a brief pretense of investigating a few people but eluded the real issue of whether it was actually trying to control the media. It appears that the ruling camp is figuring on equivocating its way out of this one, too. The Millennium Democratic Party claims that it has no connection with the documents whatsoever and the administration is also pleading total ignorance.

From the contents of the report and the way the editorials and columns are analyzed bit by bit, however, we can surmise that it was produced by a group of specialists with considerable experience in media analysis who worked on it for a long time. Was this a group specially organized and managed by the ruling camp? Was it some government agency? Or was it the MDP itself or one of its auxiliary organizations? We believe this needs to be determined because, if there are indeed elements in the ruling camp who believe the media should be influenced or controlled, it is a violation of democratic principles and thus constitutes a national problem.

It is especially noteworthy that the report recommends that recent demands by some citizens' groups for media reform, such as calling for the amendment of the Registration, etc. of Periodicals Act, should be regarded as social issues that must be dealt with.

The ruling camp has to come clean on this report: What level of priority does it have? And to how high a level of the administration was it submitted? We also need to find out who was responsible for ordering its production. If the administration tries to just let this matter slide, we will not be able to suppress the suspicion that the tax audits now being conducted in connection with those demands by citizens' groups are part of the ruling camp's "frontal attack" on the media.

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