[EDITORIALS]The media’s roleA key role of the media is to check on the government and watch it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, so this function of the media is a critical part of democracy and is why the media is called the Fourth Estate. The media exercises the people’s right to know and it is a public service. It is natural in this relationship that there is tension between the government and the media. If the relationship is too warm, neither party will be able to do its job correctly.
What underlies the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s new media guidelines is not tension but animosity. Requiring ministry officials to report the names of the reporters they spoke to and the content of the discussion to the spokesman has a precedent in communist East Germany. We believe that at the basis of reviving the idea in a free democracy like Korea is a deep-rooted distrust and animosity toward the media.
We do not know how the people of this government came to hold this prejudice against the media. But whatever the justification may be, the government cannot be allowed to limit the basic rights of the media ― that means, in other words, the people’s right to know.
President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday that the issue should be left to the judgment of individual government officials. The need to protect a source, he said, is for the individual press organ to consider. It is fortunate that he has at least expressed a negative view on the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s guidelines.
The way the media works now is, of course, not without problems. There are traces of Japanese journalism in our media, which, despite the progress achieved in the media environment, is exclusive rather than open in nature. But what needs to be improved is for the media to concern itself with, in cooperation with the government and not at the government’s command. The government, for its part, should not simply try to hide everything by limiting access by reporters. Its decision-making processes must be open to clear view. A good first step would be for the government to amend the Act on Disclosure of Information by Public Agencies and let more information flow.