[Viewpoint]The power of ‘PD Diary’Cho Neung-hee was the chief producer of MBC’s investigative journalism show “PD Diary” until recently. After MBC delivered an apology for its program about the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in American beef, Cho moved to another department.
He was named as a witness for the National Assembly’s investigation into inaccuracies in the show. As such, he will be one of the most controversial and important journalistic witnesses in history. Many people will closely listen to what he has to say to find out how the panic over mad cow disease started this summer.
In February 1993, when Cho had been working as a producer for six years, he created an episode called “Subway: The Blind Spot of Crime.” The program was about pickpockets who took money from sleeping passengers between the last three stops of line No. 1 - Jemulpo, Dongincheon and Incheon - on the last train of the night. Cho rode the last train of that line often when he was a student and a rookie producer, until he bought a used car. He saw pickpockets many times. In his 1994 book containing stories behind PD Diary, he wrote:
“When traveling on the subway, I felt bad because I couldn’t do anything when I saw the pickpockets at work. Once I saw a pickpocket when I was with my wife, who was my girlfriend back then. In front of my girlfriend, I suddenly started to act like a hero and was going to wake up the sleeping man, the pickpocket’s target. But my wife pinched me to stop me.”
Cho didn’t forget the bad taste the pickpockets left in his mouth, a residual sentiment that likely made him more enthusiastic when making the program. With a hidden camera, he went to the Jemulpo Station at around midnight. Three suspicious men were wandering on the platform. The train arrived and the three separated into different cars and got down to what they were there to do. Cho followed them and filmed them. The men looked at him out of the corners of their eyes. “I felt my heart beat violently, but I kept following them nonetheless. At Dongincheon Station, they eluded me and vanished.” The scenes that Cho filmed were aired, and one of the pickpockets was arrested.
The episode about mad cow disease was aired in late April of this year. Fifteen years had passed since the pickpocket episode. I have no idea how Cho’s life was during this period. But I guess he lived like any other documentary producer, searching for potential topics in newspapers and magazines, carefully confirming reports from viewers, putting nervous people in front of a camera, dozing on the sofa at the studio and eagerly explaining programs that he had made. That’s how it is for documentary producers.
For 18 years, PD Diary has unveiled corruption and searched for the truth. Young producers have revealed human rights violations, corruption among leaders of our society, tax evasion and cults. It is unusual for a society to have such a program. The history of the show is filled with the passion and sweat of young producers.
In his book, Cho wrote, “All I did for the program for the past six months was to struggle not to damage the good reputation that my senior producers have accumulated.”
There is no need to mention once again the wrongs the episode committed in the lead-up to the mad cow disease uproar. But before half a year has passed, that panic has disappeared and been replaced by fears about Chinese food products.
PD Diary not only represents the legacy of senior producers, but also offers opportunities for newcomers. Many youths graduating from elite universities prefer to become documentary producers than take money-making jobs. Trust in the program should be restored so those youths can work proudly for the program, just as Cho did 15 years ago. The wounds the program inflicted on the country should be healed. These important jobs depend on Cho.
A producer is a human being, and thus he makes mistakes now and then. The important thing is to admit it and apologize.
Cho finds himself at a pivotal moment, facing the sweat of his seniors, the anticipation of the younger generation, and the pressure from the people and the National Assembly, which is divided over the issue. All the people are carefully listening to what the 46-year-old producer has to say.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin