[TODAY]Entreaty to media must be sincerePresident Roh Moo-hyun in his speech commemorating Newspaper Day expressed his opinions on the media frankly for the first time since his inaugural address. His speech defined a new relation between the government and the media.
This is a brief summary of the president’s speech.
1. It was awkward for me to attend this event commemorating Newspaper Day, but I came because I thought this awkwardness should not continue. I have seen newspapers oppressed by power and newspapers that wield power themselves. Throw away all ideas of the media influencing the authorities or taming the government. There can be no winners when the authorities and the media engage in a power struggle. The new guidelines for the operation of pressrooms in government offices that I ordered were meant to establish a culture in which government officials do not feel timid in front of journalists and do not fear the media.
2. There are some who say that it is a worrisome situation that the conservative newspapers hold three-fourths of the newspaper market. We should consider the idea of separating the ownership and management of the media. What is meant by the freedom of the media is the freedom of journalists from the media capital and advertisers. The media and the public, not the government, should lead the way toward media reform.
There is deep distrust of newspapers in the president’s words. In his speech, he claimed that the conservative media persecuted the Kim Dae-jung administration during its five years in office and did not give it the credit it was due. It seemed that the president had forgotten that one of the duties of the media was to check and criticize the authorities.
One of the president’s comments, that the media is a force that has not been checked and approved by the people, was farfetched. Newspapers and television stations are checked every day and every hour by their readers and viewers. Mr. Roh’s words were exactly the same as those of a cultural minister during the presidency of Chun Doo Hwan.
Mr. Roh said that while there were voices expressing concern about the dominant market share of the conservative newspapers, he himself did not see that as a big problem. Mr. Roh’s remark seemed to be a sign of his acceptance of the free-market principle in the media market. Nevertheless, the president said it was desirable for the media and the public to lead reform of the media together, hinting at the power of the masses he would mobilize if needed.
The freedom of the media from the power of money is an eternal labor. Even some of the best newspapers in the world, such as the New York Times, have an occasional conflict between the editors and advertising personnel. That is why financial independence is so important to a newspaper or a television station. Freedom from the power of money is a matter of degree.
It is the same with the president’s mention of the freedom of the journalists from “media capital,” which seems to be referring to newspaper owners. It is only natural that the owner of a newspaper or television station should hire a chief that shares his view on editing. The appointment of the chief would influence all the lesser appointments as well. This is so with the New York Times, with Rupert Murdoch’s The Times and with the Washington Post. The freedom to edit without interference by the owner is a matter of how things stand compared with the ideal, not a matter of a 100 percent guarantee. All the more, it is not a matter that the president should step into.
President Roh is definitely wiser than Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton came to the White House feeling antagonistic toward the traditional politicians in Washington and the media. For the first few months, he addressed the public directly and snubbed the media. It was only after his support rating fell to 37 percent that Mr. Clinton got smart and hired David Gergen, the genius of media strategy and an insider in the Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan administrations, to patch things up with the media.
When Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election and again failed in 1962 to win the gubernatorial election in California, he left politics with this parting shot at journalists. “Now you won’t have me to kick around anymore.” Seven years later, however, he became president and took his revenge on the media in all ways possible ― until he resigned from the office in one big tragedy.
We welcome President Roh’s proposal of reconciliation and cooperation with the media. For this to happen, President Roh must shake off all feelings of being persecuted by the media and place restraints on the minister who said that journalists should go hunt for exclusive stories in the trashcan. The media are waiting for the day we can say, “Good job, Mr. President.”
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie