[FORUM]A question of reporters’ privilege

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[FORUM]A question of reporters’ privilege

A few days ago, we visited Changdeok Palace, where the Secret Garden is located. After having a quick lunch, three of my colleagues and I agreed to take a short walk there. We stopped by a booth at Donhwamun to buy tickets to the old palace. A ticket for adults costs 2,500 won ($2.13). Seniors, patriots, war veterans, children under six and disabled persons are admitted free.
After buying tickets and waiting for about 20 minutes, we were able to enter the palace grounds. Partly because only group tours are allowed, and partly because our group included children who were on a picnic from school, our plan to have a stroll went awry. But just looking around the old palace surrounded by fall colors and breathing the clear air in the woods of the Secret Garden was worth the trip.
“Which group would we fall into if we were in Germany now?” I suddenly asked my companions, who were perplexed. “In Germany, reporters can enter the old palaces free of charge. So, I compared them with us. Certainly, we are not considered children, disabled people, or seniors. Probably, we are seen as sort of patriots.”
At this explanation, they giggled with an expression that seemed to say “it makes sense.” It is not just old palaces. Reporters in Germany can freely enter all galleries and museums. And that’s not all. They get 16 percent off their telephone and cellular phone bills. Even 15 percent of a car’s price is discounted for reporters. This is a huge privilege.
More surprisingly, no one questions this preferential treatment for reporters. From our perspective, it’s hard to understand why. Because reporters are feared? Do reporters take revenge if they are not given such benefits? Of course not. It is probably because there is a shared awareness that reporters work for the public interest.
What if reporters were given these benefits in Korea? There would be an immediate fuss, for sure. Not only media-related civic groups such as the People’s Coalition for Media Reform and the Citizen’s Coalition for Democratic Media, but also the Blue House and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism would rant. Of course, the public would not tolerate it either. This is not to say “give reporters these privileges in Korea too.” I don’t have the slightest intention to do so. Except for pseudo-reporters, there would be no reporters who would dare ask for such favors.
While walking around the old palace on a fine autumn day, I entertained the above thought, quite ill-matched to the day, because the view of Korean reporters is too negative. To put it in the government’s terms, Korean reporters are a “privileged class that receives a treat to a drink or dinner from public officials and regularly asks for money in return for their writing.” Of course, reporters do not have much to say in reply. They have wittingly or unwittingly contributed to tearing our society into tatters. Are there only one or two areas that reporters should reflect on?
At the moment, however, many reporters are working hard, day and night, to fulfill the people’s right to know. Working overnight in the field or in the newsrooms, they are making every effort to release news more rapidly and accurately. Furthermore, some reporters and newspapers work to heal the wounds of conflict and integrate the splits in our society.
I wish we would no longer hear that reporters are “a group treated to a drink or dinner.” How many times did the president himself use such an expression? Was it only I who was nervous over whether my children happened to hear those words? Given the circumstances, I think I was right to buy drinks and meals for a few government officials some time ago.

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik
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