[Viewpoint]Misguided policyThe briefing for foreign and domestic reporters at the U.S. Department of State starts about 12:30 p. m. every day. No one is ever quite sure when it will be over, the tacit principle being that it lasts until there are no more reporters raising their hands for questions. Then, a senior reporter sitting in the front row in the briefing room says, “Thank you,” to the spokesperson.
I was amazed at this scene when I was a Washington correspondent, as I had seen many Korean spokespeople who handed out materials just for the public relations benefit and then disappeared in haste when faced with thorny questions.
I once asked an American reporter about this and he said, “Our president and senior officials also leave as soon as they finish what they have to say. But as for spokespeople, isn’t it natural they should wait until reporters have no more questions? They answer to the people, not to the reporters.”
In Nov. 2005, the White House spokesman was Scott McClellan. In a briefing, he denied that Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the scandal of illegally exposing the identity of a CIA operative in 2003. Subsequently, of course, Libby was indicted for perjury in the case. Perhaps McClellan could plead that he “didn’t know the facts at that time,” but U.S. reporters harshly criticized him, saying that he lied to the people from the White House platform. I remember being surprised as I watched the scene on C-Span, the American cable news public affairs network.
While living in the United States as a correspondent for a few years, I came to know many of its problems. I am sorry for his supporters, but I really deplored the fact that President Bush was re-elected. However, there is still a reason that the United States is able to maintain the vitality of its democracy: the media. The editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post often portrays Bush as if he were a monkey. The image is stinging. The editorials of the New York Times criticizing Bush are so fierce they could send a chill through a reader. But I have never seen American politicians blame the media for their troubles.
Former President Bill Clinton was severely criticized by the media due to his sex scandal. But he praised the media, saying, “Because of the critical function of the media, the administration becomes healthier.” He may not have he really liked the media, but he humbled himself before the people the media represented.
South Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun and his close aides, on the other hand, have attacked the press at every opportunity throughout their term in office. Everything is blamed on the media.
The ruling party cannot even decide on a candidate for the presidential elections. The leaders of the pro-government party, point their fingers at each other, accusing their supposed allies of various misdeeds, but how can this be blamed on the supposedly distorted reports of the media? Is the media to blame for rising unemployment among young people in South Korea, while 96 percent of college graduates get jobs in Japan? Who is to blame for North Korea becoming a nuclear power? Why is South Korea is sandwiched between China and Japan? The trend of going after the media was fully expressed in the new media policy passed by the cabinet on Tuesday.
Just seeing the title of the plan was enough to make journalists feel insulted. The government called the plan “support for better news coverage,” but how can they say that while closing 37 government newsrooms and limiting the access of the media to public officials? Any reporter who thinks this is support for the media is probably out of his mind.
We all know how this system came into being. Roh said in Jan. that “reporters sitting back in the newsrooms collude together” to paint the government in a negative light. The Blue House and the Government Information Agency then came up with a plan, despite the opposition of a number of press officers in government departments. It is ridiculous to hear the argument that this media plan was done to “support greater efficiency” for reporters. Those who took the initiative in making the plan at the Government Information Agency and the Blue House are former reporters. I had good relationships with them in my work. This saddens and embarrasses me all the more.
I wonder why they behave like this and how they will be able to face their junior collegues after this action. The Grand National Party, the Democratic Party, and even the Democratic Labor Party all came forward to criticize this system ― all parties except the Uri Party. With so much anger directed at the plan, it is highly likely to be revoked once a successor to Roh takes over.
It is very hard to understand why Roh and his close aides are making such an unreasonable move at the end of their term in office. Don’t they have enough to do? Are they so confident because they succeeded in reaching a free trade agreement with the United States? By any chance, are they trying to find a way to manipulate the media in the coming presidential elections?
All I can do is sigh. It is so very to understand the incumbent government.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk