[Viewpoint]The journalist’s burden

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[Viewpoint]The journalist’s burden


There is a long-standing joke among government office spokesmen who deal with journalists every day.

“It is easier to release three bags of fleas on a highway and urge them on to Seoul, than to get three journalists to board a Seoul-bound bus in Busan.” The joke means that journalists are extremely self-centered and difficult to deal with.

There is also another joke that journalists tell amongst themselves. The joke asks: “What do journalists and sperm have in common?” The answer is: “Both have a very low possibility of becoming a man.”

The joke probably stems from he fact that journalists often make other people’s lives more difficult because of the nature of the profession.

A journalist once caused a minister to lose his job by uncovering his false resident registration records. Another journalist discovered that public servants were attempting to spend tax money to go on a sightseeing trip to Iguazu Falls, leading them to lose their jobs.

Other journalists uncovered the academic plagiarism of newly appointed officials and degree forgery of a prominent museum curator, putting their careers in serious jeopardy.

Those whose skeletons were dragged out of the closet by journalists probably think that reporters are monsters, not human beings.

I think producers, particularly those who create current affairs programs, are cousins of journalists, because they also investigate and report. They probably encounter the same difficulties that the journalists face during the reporting process.

Sources journalists want to talk to often decline to be interviewed, while those that journalists want to avoid always beg for some time. A journalist struggles to find that one single fact that will link all the others and lay bare the truth of a situation, but that piece of information is extremely hard to find. To make matters worse, a deadline is always looming.

As I watched the April 29 episode of MBC’s “PD Diary,” titled “Urgent Report! Is U.S. beef really safe from mad cow disease?”, I felt envious of the program’s producers.

As it equated U.S. beef with mad cow disease, the show used neatly assembled video images, music, experts’ comments and dialogue between the host and producer.

As a newspaper journalist who cannot use video images or music, I often struggle to write an article simply by assembling facts. In contrast, TV producers are in an enviable position, with so many different techniques available to them.

In the opening of the episode, “downer” cows were shown. With solemn background music and sobbing sounds, Aretha Vinson’s funeral was featured. Aretha’s mother cried and told viewers that her daughter suddenly lost strength in her legs while walking, demonstrating how her daughter used to walk. A subtitle quoted the mother as saying, “I have no idea how Aretha got the human form of mad cow disease.”

Viewers didn’t need to watch any further in order to stamp the connection between downer cows, mad cow disease, Aretha and death on their minds. I think I was not alone in this; most viewers probably reached the same conclusion.

And yet, what the program has called “translation errors,” “slips of the tongue” by the host and “inaccurate citation of research papers” made the public lose confidence in the show. Embarrassed, MBC aired an episode titled “Did PD Diary distort the truth?” on July 15.

In that episode, the program quoted a university professor as saying, “The keys to the issue are the government’s poor negotiations and the United States’ inappropriate inspections.”

It may be possible for a professor to say that, but when PD Diary made such a statement, it was nothing more than a lame excuse.

It is undeniable that PD Diary contributed to the eventual additional negotiations of the beef import deal and the improvement in the slaughter and sale process for beef.

That is why we were disappointed that the program failed to immediately admit to its wrongdoing and issue an apology. That is why we felt disappointed that the program is instigating a political confrontation, insisting on its arguments.

The internal meeting minutes of MBC recorded that officials agreed to the need to wait and see how the situation played out, because of the possible negative effects of a hasty apology or admission of wrongdoing.

Still, I think prosecutors shouldn’t be getting involved in the PD Diary case.

The Agriculture Ministry has no reputation to defend anyway. Now, separate from the heavy punishment handed down to PD Diary by the Korea Communications Standard Commission, MBC must conduct an internal probe and make public the details of the investigation.

It is unfortunate for everyone that this situation has become a political battle.

I believe that a journalist or a producer can never “be a man,” but he must never become a politician.

*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun


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