[INSIGHT]Media accuracy and the electionWhenever I meet a relative or an acquaintance, I am usually greeted with a question like, "So what's going in the world these days?" What is seemingly a natural question directed to a person who works for a newspaper by a curious person has a deeper meaning these days: Which candidate do you like and which one is your newspaper supporting? This question is being asked more and more as the election campaign starts to roll.
An election, after all, is a choice. To make the right choice, one needs a means of verification -- verifying the policies, abilities and ethics of a candidate is vital. Taking sides first before any verification was how politics was played in the "three Kims era" of the past. One took one's side first, and then proceeded to verify and judge everything from that side's point of view.
This year could be our chance to get rid of the "three Kims" politics and start afresh. The phenomenon of regional campaigning by the candidates seems to be less prominent than in the past. Because there are some new faces, we need good verification more than ever. Yet we are throwing away our opportunity to create a new political atmosphere by failing to show any changes in our attitude toward politics.
The media also seem to fail to verify candidates and provide necessary information to voters. The media give the impression that they have already decided on a side. For example, the attitudes of each news provider toward the news of the controversial tape recording that allegedly held evidence of Grand National Party candidate Lee Hoi-chang's son dodging the draft showed which side they were on.
Those who were convinced the tape was true even before the prosecutors had verified it showed themselves to be against Mr. Lee. Those who said the tape was a hoax also showed their political color. The media should have reflected both sides of the story or conducted their own investigation to verify the truth. Or, they should have at least waited until the final results of the investigation came out.
In his recently published book, "Broadcasting Belongs to the People," the former KBS news chief Woo Suk-ho states that not much has changed in the relationship between broadcasting and the authorities since the military government days. An example he presented was the two tax inspections that were conducted on the media by this administration. Mr. Woo saw these investigations as a classic example of the authorities trying to tame the media. Mr. Woo criticized the way the National Tax Service's announcements of the results of these inspections were covered live and how the media owners were portrayed as criminals even before the charges against them were confirmed. He also pointed out that such side-taking broadcasting was related to regional ties between those who hold influential posts in the media, such as the chairman or news chief of a broadcasting company, and those who run the government. He said that such cozy ties between broadcasters and the government based on regionalism compromised the political neutrality and fairness of the broadcasters. While calling for the media to liberate themselves from the clutches of money and power, the broadcasting companies committed the folly of depending on power to help them. How could we expect fair coverage of the election from such a broadcasting structure?
This administration conducted tax inspections and indicted media publishers under the pretense of media reform, but the media did not roll over and play dead. The (then almighty) head of the National Tax Service is now hiding from the prosecutors somewhere overseas on other charges, and this administration has only three months to go. Yet certain media professionals are still trying to rely on the government, and even harbor the illusion that they are responsible for creating the next administration. Political powers have also on occasion rewarded the media according to contributions to their political interests. But there must be a firm determination on the part of both the individuals who work in the media and the media as a whole to sever any ties with politics in this year's election. The government is an object of constant supervision and checks by the media. The media should not become politically powerful; nor should they depend on politicians for their existence. At no other time has objectivity, fairness and balance in the media been so needed.
Media experts emphasize the "ICBM" in the verification process of elections. "I" is for "integration," the verification process of a candidate's suitability, including his sincerity and integrity. "C" stands for "confidence," or the capabilities and conviction of the candidate. "B," or "behavior," refers to the past deeds of the candidate while "M" stands for "morality." It is being said that this year's election will be a media-oriented one. The future of Korea depends on how honestly and fairly our media verify the "ICBM" of the candidates. Those of us in the media should not forget the saying that the media outlive politicians.
The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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