[Outlook]Hostile and misguidedPresident Roh Moo-hyun is hostile and paranoid about some daily newspapers, and that is a well known fact. Using his four years of experience in dealing with the dailies that he thinks are hostile toward him, he prepared measures to respond to them and used some of those measures in his New Year speech Tuesday evening.
President Roh circulated a script for the speech in advance, which included a warning, “If you read the newspapers tomorrow, you will find that the articles have different accounts than what you heard and saw today.”
This is a euphemism, and his real meaning was that some newspapers would surely distort his words according to their beliefs and interests. It was a request not to believe those dailies but to believe what he said.
President Roh prepared the speech himself, and blamed earlier administrations and the media for his administration’s misrule. He expected that conservative media organs would criticize him for passing the buck to someone else, so he tried to inoculate the people.
That was a brilliant idea. In the actual speech, as opposed to his text, President Roh said he could not take stronger steps in real estate policy because the “real estate newspapers” resisted.
We need to pay attention to the new term “real estate newspapers.” This term is in line with other derogatory terms such as “gang newspapers,” or “clan newspapers” run by a family. Politicians who were once student activists in the 1980s used the expressions when referring to Korea’s three major dailies, the Chosun Ilbo, the JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo,
“Real estate newspapers” probably means newspapers that profit from real estate ads and oppose a policy to help working-class people with low incomes. President Roh and his aides distort the truth in this way and try to turn frustration and anger among lower-income people who do not own homes onto the conservative newspapers that these people already detest. The leaders might be glad that the new term is very forceful and to the point, but this is a shallow tactic that anyone can see through.
The Daily Mirror of Britain reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair had convinced U.S. President George W. Bush to abandon a plan to bomb the facilities of Al-Jazeera in Qatar. The Argus, an Internet news portal in Ireland, ran an story about that with a headline saying, “Bush orders killing of the Arabic messenger.”
Americans had been infuriated about the Arabic broadcaster because it airs videotaped messages of Osama bin Laden and showed bodies of American and Iraqi soldiers who died while fighting against Iraqi insurgents in Faluja.
The expression, “to kill the messenger,” originated in a story from ancient Persia. When the Persian army was defeated in a battle, the emperor cut the throat of the messenger who delivered the bad news. That has been translated to the “media messenger” in modern times.
In his speech, Mr. Roh used the word “media” 35 times and criticized it 22 times, according to the Thursday issue of the Dong-A Ilbo.
When the president was the minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, he said he would not be afraid of waging war against the media. Recently, he has become even more aggressive. He called the media unwholesome food. He said that reporters hang out in the press room, fabricate articles and conspire to run certain reports.
These remarks are insults to the media, and make it clear he wants to kill the messenger. The president conceded that his remark about reporters hanging out to fabricate stories was excessive and apologized for it, but the problem was not the expression but his distorted view of the media and his hostile feelings against a few dailies.
It is fortunate that he ordered the Foreign Ministry and the Government Information Agency to conduct research on how press rooms are run in foreign countries. If the ministry and the agency conduct the research truthfully and report the result to the president honestly, President Roh will find out how things are in foreign countries.
First, each government body cooperates with reporters stationed in government offices. Second, the national leader does not order civil workers to regard reporters with hostility. Third, Korea is the only country where reporters from major dailies do not have the opportunity to ask questions of the president in his press conferences.
Apart from that, there is one more thing I want to remind you of. In Korea, reporters cannot even think about conspiring, because competition is unimaginably fierce among them, and alternative media outlets and civic organizations keep their eye on them all the time.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie