[FOUNTAIN]Watchdogs, lapdogs

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[FOUNTAIN]Watchdogs, lapdogs

Quick. What do reporters and sperm have in common? Both have very little chance of becoming human beings.

The joke, popular online, reflects the long-standing animosity between those in power and reporters. The tension dates back a long time.

The U.S. President Thomas Jefferson was a fierce advocate of the free press, once saying, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter." But he sang a different tune later: "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers," and "Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in the newspaper."

"I don't read the editorial pages," President George W. Bush said. "The hyperventilation" by experts on television "is just background noise." Maybe that's why he was called a "moron" by the communications director for Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada.

Reporters are sometimes compared to watchdogs or hunting dogs, highlighting their role of standing guard against abuses of authority. In developing countries, reporters are often guide dogs, leading the way to better society in a role of policymakers. Hanyang University Professor Song Tae-ho has said the worst kind are the "lapdog" reporters. They go beyond subordinating themselves to the authorities to shamelessly reap benefits for themselves.

In writing about the Miss World Pageant her country nearly hosted before a riot forced it to move to London, a Nigerian reporter, Isioma Daniel, said the prophet Mohammed would probably have chosen a wife from among the contestants. That got her a "fatwa" -- a religious decree -- calling for her execution by believing Muslims. An American reporter, Daniel Pearl, was killed by extremists while on assignment in Pakistan earlier this year.

Kim Yong-ok is an immensely popular philosopher here who has been credited with bringing intellectual discourse to the public arena. Recently he landed a new job as a newspaper reporter. That came across as a refreshing idea in many ways, but we will have to see what he can accomplish. Kim Yong-joon, a Korea University professor, often said of his brother Kim Yong-ok, "He is a person with a lot of talent." We wish him luck, perhaps as a watchdog.

The writer is a deputy foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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