[INSIGHT]A two-point agenda for Mr. RohA president is a handy target for criticism. The president is linked to all administrative duties in one way or other, so he becomes the target of concentrated criticism. One of the main jobs of the media is to criticize. If the media were smart, they would know that the bigger their target of criticism grows, the bigger they themselves can grow. The way things are going with the media these days, however, it seems that every self-respecting journalist is out to bury President Roh Moo-hyun alive. It must be said that Mr. Roh isn’t totally blameless for having things come this far. He seems to invite himself to participate and comment on things “anytime, anywhere.”
It is not only Mr. Roh’s occasional slips of the tongue. There are far more serious things, like his hasty comments on U.S.-Korea relations and the peace envoys he sent to Washington who ended up further inflaming controversy. Mr. Roh proclaims things like “war on the media” and continuously expresses what seem like the trails of suspicious thoughts.
Yet it was the media’s criticism and advice that kept Mr. Roh at least on the right track of the “unavoidable decision” of dispatching troops to Iraq and of seeking to amend relations with Washington. It was media criticism also that made the government step back from its hard-line attack on the media, with new guidelines and access restrictions.
By the 50th day of his presidency, Mr. Roh seems to have learned the trick of balancing. It has taken trial and error but at least he’s on the right track now. The last 50 days could be seen as a good training session for the pragmatic Mr. Roh, who values substance more than formalities and diversity above unnecessary conflict.
We should no longer take a narrow view of the government and the media. We should now ask ourselves what we should expect from Mr. Roh as president in the bigger picture of the government and the people.
The Roh Moo-hyun government has two strong points. First, it incurred no debts during the election campaign. Although Mr. Roh received almost absolute support from the Honam region, it was not as the successor of Kim Dae-jung. The Roh government has no political sidekicks to reward. The president’s personal fan club Nosamo is only an incongruous gathering, not a specific political group. The fact that “Nojjang,” as the president is fondly called, has no regional support base or political followers to reward means that he is in an advantageous position to sweep out the old politics of the “three Kim era.” This strength has been well shown in his appointments of new senior prosecutors and other government officials.
Another strength for Mr. Roh is the fact that his support comes from democratic activists and the information sector. The last two democratic governments came to power defining themselves in opposition to the forces of industrialization, which were made out to be corrupt and evil targets for purification under the grand mottos of “Establishing a New Korea” and the “Second National Foundation.” Neither government lived up to its mottos. Mr. Roh has no fancy mottos. He also does not disavow the last government. His is a democratic force not institutionalized as a political group but consisting of individuals. And he is supported by a young generation that is open to the information age.
Strength can sometimes be accompanied by weakness. The young democratization forces and the information age forces carry the danger of destroying the existing order and structure. They carry the danger of oversimplifying the never simple task of governing a country and not recognizing experience as such. This danger has already shown itself in U.S.-Korea relations and in the issue of U.S. troops in Korea.
A strength undetected can sometimes turn into a weakness. The Roh Moo-hyun government should capitalize on its strengths and provide a blueprint for political reforms and rescuing the economy. There are many things to do but little time to do them. It will be more than enough for him to concentrate on just two things.
The first is to get rid of all remnants of the three-Kim era. There has been enough talk about political reforms and everyone knows which way the reforms should go. All we need to do is act.
The second thing Mr. Roh should focus his attention on is saving the economy. For that, the government should not turn the industrialization forces into enemies but invite them to become allies and share their experiences. When the forces of industrialization and democratization join hands with the newly emerging creative information age force, we will be able to provide the framework for a productive future. The alliance with a creative and global-minded information sector is vital in our quest to become the trade and financial center of Northeast Asia. Don’t try to turn this valuable information age force into some sort of private Red Guard. Let it do its rightful job.
There are bigger things to worry about than who gets to become the president of the public television station or what angry buzz the media are making. Set aside all petty disputes and let Mr. Roh concentrate on only two things: political reform and saving the economy.
If he does those two things right he’ll find the media cheering for him in no time, and Koreans will find ourselves in a new Korea.
* The writer is executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin