[Viewpoint] Press should unite in support of MBC

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[Viewpoint] Press should unite in support of MBC

It is the duty of law enforcement authorities to accurately establish and verify the facts surrounding a disputed incident. This is why authorities conduct raids to confiscate evidence as part of their efforts to get the facts right.

Legally, anyone can be raided, assuming of course that it is legitimate and conducted lawfully.

But when the subject of the raid is a media company, it becomes a complicated matter.

Just as law enforcement authorities have a duty to get all of the facts, media companies have a duty to protect their sources. If a publication or TV station must hand over the names of unidentified sources, who would want to speak with a reporter and reveal sensitive, important information?

This is a key tenet of the media profession. It’s one that reporters and editors take very seriously.

There is a saying among American journalists that they may give up their lives for a story, but they must never surrender their notepads.

Recognizing that the issue is directly linked to press freedom, many states have established a shield law that in effect recognizes a reporter’s right to protect a source and shelters media outlets from raids.

It’s only a matter of time before a federal shield law is enacted in the U.S. When that happens, will law enforcement authorities be powerless to investigate a media company?

The answer is no.

Authorities can issue subpoenas, ordering reporters and editors to submit evidentiary material. Journalists, just like everyone else, must submit to the subpoena.

In America, however, many journalists refuse to submit to subpoenas as part of their duty to protect sources.

Those journalists who do comply often become the subject of ridicule and even disdain by their peers.

Reporters and editors who don’t submit to subpoenas face physical detention or fines. While journalists must serve jail time, their employers often cover the fines.

Journalists here think similarly.

In 2003, prosecutors attempted to raid the Seoul Broadcasting System, expecting to find a video recording from a hidden camera that would back up bribery allegations against Yang Gil-seung, then a Blue House secretary.

SBS held an internal meeting to discuss the issue, when prosecutors suddenly attempted to raid the broadcaster.

But SBS labor union members physically blocked the attempt.

More recently, prosecutors have been investigating Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation on a controversial episode of “PD Diary” last year that authorities say intentionally exaggerated health risks from U.S. beef.

So how should the company respond?

According to U.S. examples, the broadcaster must try to thwart any attempt to force its journalists to hand over information about their sources. If it involves a raid, the company’s security staff - not labor union members - should try to prevent it.

As in the U.S., it should be the company’s role to decide whether it should submit the evidentiary material requested by prosecutors or not.

Even if MBC decides to cooperate with the investigation, it should still be up to the individual journalist to decide whether or not to submit to a subpoena.

If the company decides not to submit to the subpoena, it must pay any fines levied on its journalist. If the journalist decides to cooperate and testify, then he or she must seek a consensus or understanding from the news source.

Even if a reporter testifies, notepads and computers must be off-limits.

MBC, too, has a job to do. First, it must review whether the episode in question was based on facts. Outside experts, not internal executives, must conduct a thorough investigation. If the report contains a problem or the news-gathering activities were inappropriate, the company must hand down severe punishment on those responsible. The chain of command must then assume responsibility.

A raid against a media company is a grave threat to press freedom. All other media companies must raise their collective voice in support of MBC - not journalists and unions, but heads of media companies, must criticize the raid as inappropriate.

But this kind of response likely won’t happen here in the current environment. Some might find the notion quite laughable.

Until we adopt U.S.-style ethics and procedures for protecting sources, Korea’s mass media industry will remain substandard.

*The writer is a professor at Korea University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Min-hwan
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