Truth sets you freeA new policy to streamline media briefing rooms in government departments faces nationwide resistance. The Grand National Party has decided to block the measure and it wants to pass a bill in a special session of the National Assembly in June that will shut down the Government Information Agency, which has been spearheading the new policy. The legal circle plans to file a petition to the Constitutional Court. Civil organizations, media associations and civil workers are all opposed to the new policy. It is the first time for a long while that the ruling and opposition parties, leftist and rightists, progressive and conservatives, have agreed on an issue.
There is no need to address the undemocratic and illegal elements of this measure once again. But we do want to make one thing clear. Reporters do not hang out in press rooms, as President Roh Moo-hyun said, based on his distorted view of the media. Press rooms are required for the media to monitor and check those in power, a duty given by the people. Press rooms were created because the government also needs to report state affairs to the people.
If reporters have difficulty in reporting news and sending stories to their offices, the people’s right to know will be infringed upon and the entire country will not function properly. Even in an advanced democratic society, there are press embargoes, off-the-record briefings and negotiated decisions not to report certain items in the public or national interest.
But if pressrooms disappear, it will become impossible to maintain these customs. People will not care about the national interest but will compete to uncover the news. For instance, if a press embargo is not observed in an abduction case, in which investigative authorities and the media must cooperate, a hostage’s life could be placed in danger. Every move the president makes can be publicized in real time, increasing the risk that dangerous incidents could befall him.
President Roh seems proud that he took part in the democracy uprising in June, 1987. The cause of the uprising was the torture and death of Park Jong-chul. But it was not a police briefing that disclosed the incident. The incident became known to the public as a result of a fierce competition among reporters.
But this administration attempts to block reporters’ eyes and ears. It should not even talk about democracy. This administration is in danger of being remembered as an undemocratic administration, like that of Chun Doo Hwan. President Roh must see how furious the people are. If he fears public opinion and history, he must withdraw this measure. That’s courage in the truest sense.