[OUTLOOK]Find the truth and report itWhile I was in Ho Chi Min City last week for a meeting, I visited the war museum there. Records of the Vietnam War from the U.S. intervention to the victory of the Viet Cong are exhibited in this museum. The tragedies of the war, including the enormous damage caused by napalm bombs and defoliants, are shown.
The interesting fact was that most of these exhibits are copies of the American media's coverage of the war. From the massacre at the village of My Lai to the devastated wilderness after the spraying of the defoliants, all the photography exhibited had been printed in American newspapers with articles reporting the cruelty of the war.
A war museum filled with reports from the enemy state, how could such a thing be possible? It was possible because what the reports show is the truth.
The truth is the truth regardless of whether it is reported by an enemy or an ally, a communist or a capitalist, during a war or after a war. That is why Vietnam could exhibit these reports exactly as they had been depicted by the U.S. media. This also shows how honest the American media had been in pursuing the truth. A major reason the U.S. government had to withdraw from Vietnam had been the American media's persistent objection to the "wrong war."
Sometimes truth reveals itself. Sometimes it has to be dug out and sometimes it lies buried forever. The words of a legislator as he recently withdrew from the Millennium Democratic Party was an instance of truth revealing itself. When Roh Moo-hyun, a relatively obscure candidate, won the party's primary race, the Millennium Democratic Party made a fuss, phrasing it as "The Great Choice Made by Gwangju Citizens." The media had been suspicious of how such a result could be possible in Korean politics. But no one thought of digging out the truth. Perhaps it was the fear of criticism and of the consequences of reporting the truth.
However, the truth came from an unlikely place. Ahn Dong-seon, a MDP legislator, said in his resignation announcement that Mr. Roh's popularity would have been impossible had the Blue House not been behind him. Had the media reported something in that line it would been have immediately bashed for taking sides and trying to slander a candidate. The truth also has come out about the new party that some members of the Millennium Democratic Party are trying to form. One of the legislators of the MDP was heard saying, "Kim Dae-jung made five parties, Kim Young-sam six and Kim Jong-pil three. The public considers this new party the 15th party." What lengthy explanations provided by the media could be a better revelation of truth than these words?
In its reports about the allegations that the son of the Grand National Party leader, Lee Hoi-chang, had dodged his military service, the media stops at only delivering what the two sides are saying, without any attempts to find the truth. The truth is out there, whether the allegations are true or not. The truth can reveal itself as in the cases mentioned above, or it may have to be dug out. With only four months until the presidential election, the media has neither the time nor means to dig deep for the truth.
Acknowledging such weaknesses of the Korean press, a convicted felon even set up a schedule of when he will come forward with "disclosures" about the affair. Whenever he opens his mouth, the media will have to dance to his tune. The "revelation war" will become more intense as the election approaches. Politicians will come up with new "revelations" and accuse one another, and the media will take in all this and jot it down on its pages. This election could turn out to be the biggest "revelation war."
Lee Hoi-chang and his family know the truth. Had the son indeed wormed his way out of military service through bribery, the truth will one day be found out. Could this be a brazen scheme to falsely incriminate the leader of the Grand National Party, the majority party in the National Assembly? If Mr. Lee is confident in the truth, he can wait until the truth reveals itself. Staging protests in front of the Blue House demanding a deadline to the prosecutors' investigations, urging an acceleration of investigations so that he could concentrate on his election campaign and pointing at the scandals of President Kim Dae-jung's family only lead people to become more suspicious.
The mission of the media is to report the truth. If the media does not demonstrate efforts to report the truth and continues to merely repeat what the two sides are saying, the readers will turn their back on the media eventually.
If digging up the truth is beyond the media's ability, then it should at least wait until the truth reveals itself. The media should show true courage in deciding for itself what "revelations" are worthless or without credibility and dare not to print them. We are now facing an election that might turn the clock back for democracy. The media should lead the way in showing dignity and passion in pursuing the truth.
The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk