‘Colluding in press room?’The Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty had an uncompromising critic. He grew sick and tired of the critic and swore he whould kill the critic. The critic’s name was Wei Zheng. He was a man of character who did not hesitate to give forthright comments to the emperor.
One day, Taizong received a handsome eagle. But shortly after taking time to adore the handsome eagle, Taizong was told Wei Zheng was coming to discuss national affairs. Taizong decided to hide the eagle under his cloths because he worried that Wei Zheng would accuse him of not working hard enough. His hope was that Wei Zheng would leave soon, but Wei Zheng deliberately delayed his departure as he sensed the eagle hidden in the emperor’s clothing. Wei Zheng slowly counted how many previous emperors had abandoned their duties owing to their indulgence in hobbies. The eagle had already suffocated long before Wei Zheng left, as it was smothered under he emperor’s robes too long.
When Wei Zheng died, the emperor went himself to Wei’s deathbed and grieved that “a copper mirror was for my cloth, a human mirror was for my correctness; now I lost a great mirror.” But after Wei Zheng’s death, the Tang dynasty began to decline, due to the campaign against Goguryeo. The fall of Tang is not entirely due to the loss of Wei, but at the same time it is also true there was no other personality that could produce so many forthcoming criticism of Taizong as Wei did.
The role of critics was immeasurable even in times when monarchy’s sovereign power was limitless.
In our history we can also find precedents: There were offices solely assigned for advice and criticism of the monarch in the Koryo and Joseon dynasties.
That office is comparable to journalism in a contemporary sense, in that it evaluated the rights and wrongs of policies and each ministry and sometimes impeached the king. Unilateral policies were the likely outcome of the administration when a monarch did not listen to its critics.
Likewise, the repercussions of bad policies backfired on people when critics failed to engage in honest censure of the corrupt bureaucracy. Journalists of Korea are nowadays described as “colluding in the press room” by the president, the highest authority of the state. The presence of a person who speaks the truth guarantees the progress not only of an individual, but of a state. About such an obvious truth the president tirelessly contentious. He has “weighty duties and a long way to go” besides that.
The writer is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yoo Kwang-jong [email@example.com]
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