[Viewpoint]The ethics of jumping shipEveryone is free to choose their job or profession. Article 15 of the Constitution stipulates “all citizens shall enjoy the freedom of occupation.” However, when ready to quit a present job and choose another, one should take a moment to contemplate his actions. Judges and public prosecutors who plan to open their own private law offices upon retirement belong to this category.
If they ask favors about a pending court case in which they are involved from the judges and prosecutors who were their subordinates or colleagues only a few months earlier, it might be difficult for their former colleagues to turn down the request. Furthermore, incumbent judges and prosecutors may themselves think, “I will be in the same position when I retire.”
The practice of granting favors to retired judges and prosecutors in this manner won’t disappear anytime soon. However, it needs to stop, especially because it is truly unfair and demoralizing for the opposing counsel in litigation cases who are unable to find a retired judge or prosecutor to represent his side in court.
I mention this because I want to discuss the issue of professional ethics in regard to people who change their profession. As the presidential election nears, the community of journalists is getting noisy nowadays. Journalists have moved, one after another, to the election camps of presidential candidates, leaving behind their newspapers and television stations. They are the talk of the town.
About 20 journalists have already joined the election camp of Lee Myung-bak. About the same number of journalists are working actively in Park Geun-hye’s campaign. About five or six journalists have joined the campaign of candidate Sohn Hak-kyu, the former Gyeonggi governor. It is said that a total of 60 to 70 journalists have gone to the election camps of either the pro-government forces or the opposition parties. It will probably be recorded that the largest number of journalists in history have deserted their jobs to support a candidate in the 2007 presidential race.
It is not just the large number that is remarkable. A significant number of journalists jumped straight into the presidential election camp the day they left their jobs in the media.
These are the people who, just days before, edited stories written by junior journalists about the candidates whose campaign they have joined, and wrote editorials about them.
Overnight, they changed their position from journalist to political aide of a presidential candidate, then turned around to work on publicity for the candidates.
This can lead to criticism and give rise to questions such as, “Did they write news articles and editorials in an accurate, balanced and fair manner? Could they broadcast news on presidential candidates in a neutral way?” It is natural that their moves raise questions about how they can maintain fairness in their journalistic activities while secretly rooting for a certain candidate.
There are many reasons why presidential candidates draw journalists to their side.
Journalists commonly have spontaneity and they are quick to grasp the political situation. However, the truth may be that they have been aiming for special favors granted to predecessors [as in the case of former judges and prosecutors].
Obviously election camps with more former newspaper and television journalists have easier access to media outlets. Ultimately, lobbying is “selling one’s face,” and it is hard for anyone to ignore former colleagues.
In addition, it might make it easier for the election camp to grasp the political inclinations of the members of a certain media outlet, so it is like killing two birds with one stone.
Naturally, each journalist who joins a presidential election camp has his or her own reasons.
However, it is hard to deny that a “betting psychology” lies beneath it, meaning the psychology of expectation that if a new employee’s candidate wins, he will win big. On the other hand, if the candidate loses, the journalist goes bust. Thus, the former journalist has no choice but to be aggressive.
All elections make people fall into a state of irrational excitement. This is even more true in a presidential election. This year’s presidential election is still a long way off, but it gives people many things to think about.
Some figures who ostensibly participate in civic movements have jumped into real politics. They are the people who used to appear on television to scold politicians with noble ideas from “civil society.” Some university professors also now openly support certain candidates. I just hope they do not talk nonsense about who is good and who is bad in their classrooms.
The same applies to journalists. Choosing one’s profession is a freedom, and there is no reason to criticize journalists who go into politics.
Noting this trend, a new coinage, polinalist (politician journalist) has emerged recently, in addition to polifessor (politician professor).
They should keep in mind that such a cynical atmosphere will burden younger journalists left behind.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk