[Outlook]Journalists, not officials, rake muck‘The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegorical novel about the main character and his family’s journey from this world to Heaven.
The novel was written 330 years ago by the English preacher John Bunyan when he was imprisoned on charges of not conforming to the Church of England.
Among the people the family runs into on the pilgrimage is a man with a muckrake. He would be nicknamed “the rake man,” these days. The rake man is a typically secular person who is so preoccupied with raking that he cannot have dreams of Heaven.
But 100 years ago, former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt likened journalists who chase corruption of power and large enterprises to the rake man in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and called journalists righteous people who clean up the world.
Since then, the word “muckraker” has been used to refer to experts who chase corruption.
These days, reporters are the rake men. They follow ugly scandals in the mundane world, instead of moving stories in heaven.
The government can create a body to promote its work but not a body to simply inform people about its work. So, the journalists’ duty is to follow whistle-blowers, people who give news agencies the inside story.
A democratic administration would not block communication between a rake man and a whistle blower. The foundation of democracy is the belief that there is no perfect power with flawless ethics, making it necessary to monitor all governments.
In a democratic country, all government workers are potential informers of corruption.
But the Blue House and the Government Information Agency are pushing for a media policy to replace meetings between government officials and journalists with briefings.
In 1972, the Watergate scandal broke out. The White House and the State Department attempted to wiretap the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in order to re-elect President Richard Millhouse Nixon.
The scandal was not revealed at the U.S. government’s briefings. Two journalists at the Washington Post constantly contacted a government official, and the information that the official gave was the lead to the scandal.
The secret source was nicknamed “Deep Throat,” after a title of a porn film, because he spit out a secret he had hidden deep in his throat.
The source was revealed 33 years later, in 2005, to be an FBI official.
If the U.S. government had blocked reporters’ direct meetings with government officials, and offered group briefings and electronic briefings only to the Washington Post reporters, the Watergate Scandal would have remained uncovered.
Nixon would have been recorded as an acceptable president in history textbooks, not as a brazen president who resigned before he was impeached. In the presidential system, the president who is a public servant must not intervene in the political arena.
But in Korea, the incumbent president and even a former president who left office a long time ago intervene in the campaigns for the presidential election.
In Korea, the president seems to have lifetime tenure.
The briefing system must not be introduced when the power of the president is this strong.
The Blue House and the Government Information Agency named the new media policy the “advanced system for news coverage” because they knew it would be a stretch to call it a “democratic system.”
But the unified briefing system is suitable for a Western-style parliamentary system where it is impossible for the powerful to conspire or commit corruption or for a very underdeveloped country where the state-controlled media outlet dictates the words of the powerful.
Korea’s Government Information Agency claims that the briefing system is an advanced system, but that is misinformation.
It is very odd that the administration wants to evaluate its own achievements before leaving office.
This administration wants to evaluate itself ― something that is the right of the next generation ― and congratulate itself on its achievements, which is truly disrespectful of history. At the Participatory Government Evaluation Forum, the president reportedly said that this media measure was a war of justice to remove customary corruption of the media.
But the rake to chase corruption is not meant for the powerful but for the media.
The government says it will inform people of what is going on inside the fence using the intercom phone at the entrance. Meanwhile it holds up a rake and says it will chase corruption out of the media.
The government must stop this self-serving crusade.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungsung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Gweon Yong-lib