[Viewpoint] Bottling up the media
If the media are obsessed with anything it’s “facts.” Good media must report facts as they are. And yet, it is never an easy job to do. Men are not gods, and it is impossible in our reality to grasp facts as they are.
So, after acknowledging human beings’ limitations, what should the media do?
Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, who was behind most of the reporting of the Watergate scandal, gave a great answer. In testimony he gave in court, the U.S. journalist said if a reporter’s reporting was “the best obtainable version of the truth,” then it should be seen as truth.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism embodied Woodward’s definition even further. The PEJ presented three objective standards for its Reporting Index: good reporting must obtain information through four or more transparent sources; the reporting must contain a “mix of viewpoints”; and the opinions of four or more parties of interest must be reflected.
In other words, a journalist must reconstruct the truth by obtaining information from multiple numbers of sources with varying views and interests.
According to surveys by Korea’s media scholars, the Korean media hardly ever quotes diversified sources in comparison to, for example, the U.S. media. The Korean media rarely identifies sources and rarely tries to present “the best obtainable version of the truth.” Instead, they present “the best usable version of the truth.”
Why? The answer is the perennial problem of political factionalism to which broadcasters and newspapers are inexorably intertwined. What we find in fact is that reporters in Korea distort and sometimes fabricate facts.
The reporting on mad cow disease on MBC’s “PD Diary” is a perfect example of this kind of distortion, and the media leapt at the chance of leveling such accusations against the program makers, though they themselves have often been guilty of the same journalistic crime.
Korean journalists are just as guilty of abject shallowness at times as the soap operas that grace our screens every night.
Replacing political factionalism with fairness is the task of today’s media. Public broadcasters must resolve this task as soon as possible. It is their responsibility to be fair. To this end, it is fortunate that the newly formed boards of directors at KBS and MBC are paying attention to this matter.
The expectation, however, falls flat when we become aware of how the broadcasters’ board members are selected.
In Korea, political parties recommend board members for a public broadcaster. Each political party recommends only those who can best represent their political interests. Rumors abound that the ruling party creates the list with the Blue House.
What matters in the board of directors is the number, not the logic of the appointment, and it is not possible for such a system to realize a fair broadcaster.
Of course, the limit of the system can be overcome to a certain degree if each political party recommends appropriate candidates after receiving the recommendations of academic societies, bar associations and literary and civic groups, based on the awareness that maintaining a fair public broadcaster is a primary task today.
However, no political party has shown the will to do so until now.
It’s virtually impossible for reporters to do their job objectively under this system of political parties’ recommending board members to public broadcasters. The system also serves to heighten political factionalism.
An example is the community of media scholars. As of now, several groups are trying to promote fairness in reporting.
Of course, all of them argue that they have maintained balanced positions, but outsiders think that they have all sided with a political party.
Such groups have no autonomous regulation when recommending candidates to political parties. In order to become a director on a broadcaster’s board, the person must take sides with those in power.
Thus, the political factionalism within the media produces political factionalism in academia, and scholars’ reputations subsequently plummet. And disgrace in the academy means that the road to achieve fairness in media will be tougher than ever. It is disappointing to see the vicious cycle continue.
The system of political parties’ recommending board members of a public broadcaster must be completely reconsidered.
*The writer is a professor at Korea University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
by Kim Min-hwan