Keeping tabs on the press

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Keeping tabs on the press

Prosecutors have arrested a former producer of the MBC program “PD Diary” and raided the homes of six of the show’s staff members.

In protest, the producers of MBC’s current affairs program are refusing to work on the show.

The prosecution’s investigation was prompted by complaints filed by former agriculture minister Chung Woon-chun; Min Dong-seok, former deputy minister and chief negotiator on the U.S. beef import deal; and U.S. beef importers. The focus is on whether PD Diary’s episode on mad cow disease defamed the aforementioned parties and obstructed the importers’ business.

Prosecutors said MBC crew members ignored repeated summonses, so they had no option but to arrest them. Of course, journalists should all be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But such a sudden arrest places psychological pressure not just on those arrested but on other journalists as well.

This is really a shame because, whatever the reason, it is never right to arrest journalists. These arrests are also liable to make journalists cautious about criticizing those in power, which is one of our core missions.

We feel it is our responsibility, therefore, to keep a close eye on this arrest and the subsequent investigation by the prosecution so as to maintain the freedom of the press.

In a statement, MBC’s labor union argued the arrest was akin to “suppression of the press” and “a savage act of violence by the powers that be.”

As journalists ourselves, we can certainly understand where they are coming from.

But before MBC denounces everything the prosecution has done, we would advise them to make sure they have reflected on their own reporting on the controversy over U.S. beef imports, which we believe to have been exaggerated.

The responsibility of the press is just as important as its freedom. After the episode in question aired, the Korea Communications Standards Commission ordered MBC to issue an apology to its viewers, and the Seoul Southern District Court ordered the station to air corrections. But MBC didn’t even punish staff members who worked on the program, choosing instead to assign them to different posts.

The broadcaster aired an apology only after labor union protests, and the apology was aired on an affiliate station at that. We have to wonder whether this was the most responsible action for them to have taken.

In Japan, after Nippon TV aired a report based on false testimony, the president stepped down, the head of news programming was fired and the producer in charge was punished.

The press gains respect only when freedom and responsibility are equally balanced.

We hope this is something of which MBC is well aware.
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