[Viewpoint] Lies at the heart of the story

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[Viewpoint] Lies at the heart of the story

Do some people revel in turning the world upside down?

The writer of the fabricated mad cow disease story broadcast on network television last year certainly seemed to have rejoiced at the impact her story made, at the anger and fear the tale generated.

People reacted to the distortions en masse as if seized by a fit of madness, a psychosis that grew into anti-government fever. The “psychological satisfaction” from watching such scenes play out on our streets must have been enormously appealing to those who wrote the script.

The e-mail messages sent by the main writer of the controversial episode of “PD Diary,” the weekly MBC-TV current affairs program, certainly convey this impression. The message the writer sent to an acquaintance, which has been presented as evidence by state prosecutors, contained the following information in response to the large-scale candlelight vigils last year:

“The producer of the current affairs program asked me: ‘Miss Kim [the writer], what’s it like being at the center of the news? Do you see what you have done? Are you satisfied now? Ha ha!’”

And so the Lee Myung-bak administration is in disgrace once again, the victim of a bogus drama, since it is clear that the makers of the notorious PD Diary episode twisted the truth, cooked up interviews and exaggerated facts.

Nevertheless, the Blue House repeatedly evaded the issue. Just as the writer says in her e-mail, “It severely damaged the new administration in its first 100 days.”

It’s hardly a surprise that the Blue House is furious right now, but it’s a bit like someone screaming at missing a passing bus.

The pride of a lot of people in this country has taken a battering. They are embarrassed because they were tricked by television producers. Naturally, a sense of betrayal persists, too. This empty feeling, this void, can be traced directly back to the Lee Myung-bak administration because it failed to provide people with accurate, timely information about the health scare stories that rocked the country.

Clearly, eating U.S. beef is not a health issue. The chances of a diner contracting mad cow disease from eating U.S. beef are miniscule, lower than the chances of Tiger Woods getting struck by lightning while hitting a hole-in-one. Yet the government failed to communicate this truth to the people at this crucial moment.

The impact of this fabricated story has proved durable. The biggest victims were people at the grassroots and students. These ordinary people decided to avoid cheap U.S. beef products because they were worried. Instead, they ate chicken or pork in restaurants, unable to afford expensive Korean beef.

Prejudice created by superstitious beliefs usually last a long time. PD Diary belittled the characteristics of the Korean people, reporting that Koreans had a higher chance of getting mad cow disease than other ethnic groups. But this was simply a lie, a malicious distortion and an insult to the healthy physical characteristics we inherited from our ancestors.

Young people, full of pride for their country, have been slandered by these distortions, confused by stories that bring into question their physical health.

Essentially, the Blue House failed to protect the people last year. Although belated, it must at least apologize and demonstrate that it has reflected on what happened last year.

It should pause and consider why it failed to stop Koreans from being exposed to warped lies about mad cow disease.

After that, the government should press the program’s producers to take responsibility for evading their duty as public broadcasters and as journalists. If the government sides with the people and shows that it means business, the pressure on the MBC staff involved will increase.

An interesting aspect of the fallout from the program, and people’s reactions to it, is how a drama, whether it is presented as fiction or as a current affairs documentary, can manipulate people’s views and compel them to adopt extreme positions.

The mad cow disease story is a very good example of how a program can mix false reports with facts. They presented the truth when they explained the general situation but planted lies in their explanation of important parts of the story. People who watched the program reacted frantically to the slogan that people’s health should be protected.

And when the power of a fabricated story grows strong, there is room for anti-government forces to intervene. They inject prejudice and promote ideology, and now they are trying to turn the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun into a political offensive against President Lee Myung-bak.

But this time people won’t be so easily duped. If we have learned anything from the past year, it should have been the importance of making decisions for ourselves.

Hopefully, people will be able to tell the difference between mourning the former president’s death and a political struggle.

The government also should have the ability to discern truth from lies and block the spread of falsehoods. Only then can it have confident communications with the people.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Bo-gyoon
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