[OUTLOOK]Paper’s mission stays the same

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[OUTLOOK]Paper’s mission stays the same

This column was originally to be about Uri Party legislator Lee Chul-woo. It was to be about our inability to distinguish between communism and McCarthyism. The left wing accuses anyone who even breathes the word “communism” of McCarthyism. They love to talk about human rights abuse and torture.
This tirade leaves the right wing with nothing to say because, after all, it is the truth. Before one knows it, the initial question of whether a certain person was once a communist or still a communist is left unanswered while everyone talks about the history of oppression.
We must not avoid talking about communism just because we know McCarthyism is wrong. McCarthyism is wrong but communism is just as wrong. We should be ashamed for once having accused and stigmatized innocent people as communists. Yet, at the same time, those who indeed were communists should come clean about their past.
North Korea still aspires to reunify the peninsula by force and North Korean communism still inspires much fear and resentment among South Koreans. This was roughly what my column was going to be about.
However, I threw away this idea because I thought the readers would be more interested in a new development: the designation of Hong Seok-hyun, publisher of the JoongAng Ilbo, as the ambassador to the United States. Yet I cannot help feeling a bit self-conscious in writing this column. Is it proper for me to write about the publisher of the newspaper I write for?
I couldn’t resist my inner voice, which told me that a journalist must write what should be said about the issue, whatever it might be. If I avoid talking about the publisher of my paper, although I make various critical comments on other things, I believe I would not be a true journalist.
I found out about the appointment a few days before the news became public. First, there were rumors about Mr. Hong’s aspirations of becoming a candidate for the secretary-general post at the United Nations. Then came the request from the government, asking Mr. Hong to become the Korean ambassador to the United States. I was taken aback when I first heard the news because, in my opinion, the media is destined to keep a healthy distance from the government.
The UN secretary-general position is not influenced by domestic forces and would be an honor to the country and to the individual. The post of the ambassador to the United States, however, is another story. It is difficult to be aloof from political power because it is a post appointed by the president.
The mission of a newspaper is to criticize and keep watch over power. My biggest concern about our publisher becoming the ambassador was that it might ultimately force our newspaper to bow to power. I was embarrassed when I heard that the prime minister had recently remarked that the JoongAng Ilbo was different from the other major newspapers. I thought, a newspaper that is praised by those in power must not be doing its job correctly. If the publisher becomes the ambassador to the United States, what would people say about the JoongAng Ilbo? This was my biggest worry.
On the other hand, I thought about the relationship between a country and an individual. If a country calls an individual to service, could he refuse for the sake of a newspaper? With the Korea-U.S. relations on shaky ground, wouldn’t it be good for the country if a talented person served the government? And from his personal point of view, it would be unfair to deprive him of opportunities to assume a public post because he is a publisher of a newspaper.
Whichever position we may be in, if we serve with all our heart, we would be serving for our country. These thoughts comforted me.
Real problems will start to arise from now. It all depends on what kind of a newspaper the JoongAng Ilbo will become. If the JoongAng Ilbo fails to say what it should because its major shareholder is the ambassador to the United States, it will be a tragedy for the paper and its readers. The JoongAng Ilbo would be digging its own grave if it falls into that temptation. We may be able to fool one or two people, but we cannot fool everyone for a long time. Our readers are wise.
On the other hand, this might be a great opportunity for Korean newspapers. The reason the government pushed for a media bill that targets the Chosun Ilbo, Dong-a Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo was that it claimed that the newspaper owners were controlling the contents of the newspapers. If the JoongAng Ilbo shows that it is not influenced by its major shareholder and keeps to the correct path, the government will naturally change its mind.
This is the task given to the outgoing publisher and those who remain behind. Mr. Hong should keep his affection for the newspaper as a major shareholder but he should leave the newspaper work to the newspaper people. There will be times when he will feel dissatisfied and when he will be pressured by others, but he should remember that such inconveniences are necessary to keep our newspaper standing upright.
Those who are remaining behind should not shy away from their jobs just to pacify the major shareholder. If Mr. Hong and the newspaper try to read the mind of each other, the newspaper will go to the dogs.
The JoongAng Ilbo celebrates its 40th anniversary next year. This newspaper is not the possession of the publisher or the exclusive property of the newspaper staff. The JoongAng Ilbo is already an important institution of this country.
It is my hope that Mr. Hong will do a good job as the ambassador to the United States in solving the difficult tasks that lie before our country. If possible, I hope he also becomes the secretary-general of the United Nations. I will be waiting for him to return as publisher after such grand experiences.

*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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