[Viewpoint] The need for better gatekeepingLike every newcomer on a workforce, cub reporters usually find that their work is a tough row to hoe during their first years in the field. They undergo painful disillusionment with the textbook principles of press freedom. Many too often see their hours of written work altered by editors or even dumped into the trash bin right before their eyes. Editors decide whether the writing has the elements of an article that is credible enough for publication. Journalists are groomed through such a process. Skeptics see the procedure as a type of brainwashing to instill newsroom customs and traditions rather than training for fair reporting. But without such rigid training, reporters can fall prey to arrogance or lack the strong responsibility required of the job. Journalism involves liberty and authority.
The biggest fault in the controversial MBC investigative news program “PD Diary,” which fed the mad cow disease scare about American beef imports, was in the editing process. Producers cut and pasted voice and video clips to bolster their evidence. Their flimsy material could not have been aired if the TV newsroom had a desk filtering process like the ones at most newspapers. In communications, we call such a regulatory job gatekeeping.
Democracy guarantees the sovereignty of the legislative branch. Each legislator is considered a constitutional institution. They enjoy liberty and independence. But what is the essence of such freedom? Just because the legislative branch has liberty, it does not follow that an individual lawmaker can do whatever he or she desires. The sovereignty of the legislative branch is given so that the rights of the people are protected and unchallenged by outside forces and threats. But this does not grant legislators the right to wield hammers and saws or practice karate against opposing lawmakers in assembly chambers. Their freedom must be accompanied by responsibility and decorum.
The legislative branch should self-regulate its members. If the legislative branch truly prizes its sovereignty, it should have never allowed the problem of violence to be referred to prosecutors. It should have taken stern steps through its ethics committee. The legislative branch had been lenient in its gatekeeping duties.
The same goes for the judiciary. A high civil court ordered the MBC program to apologize and run a correction for its report linking a crippled cow to mad cow disease. But another court later overruled the verdict. Can the truth behind the cow’s crippling change according to individual judges? The court disregarded the judgment of the other court. Can this be regarded as judicial sovereignty? The judiciary today appears to be swayed by young power. The younger group has extended influence and senior justices no longer can ignore the opinions of their junior counterparts, who have the chief justice to watch their backs. The recent controversy over a series of contradictory rulings also stems from a lack of gatekeeping in the justice system.
The latest bout of social controversy has sprung from institutions that savor independence and freedom. The mad cow scare emanated from the freedom of the press, violence at the National Assembly from the sovereignty of the legislature and the disputed trial results came from the independence of the judiciary. The concerned parties all cloak their actions in the robes of freedom and independence. Upon a closer look, we can find these individual incidents are all interlinked. They separately sprouted from different branches of freedom and independence, but came from the same ideology. Each separate arm of the three major powers is in fact reaching for ideological unity. In the past, the separation of powers was undermined by dictatorship. Today, divisive forces are caused by ideology.
The system in itself does not have a separate life. Even if the system ensures the separation of power, the people behind the system are what determines its fate. Some inner forces have abused loopholes of authority in freedom and independence to jeopardize the entire system.
The dignity of the judiciary system remained intact during the decade-long government of Syngman Rhee because of the upright Chief Justice Kim Byung-ro. The intrepid chief justice stood staunchly behind the Constitution. Rhee would sneer, “How’s our Constitution getting along?” on meeting Kim. But Kim was a reliable gatekeeper. If the legislature and judiciary had a gatekeeper like him, we would not have witnessed the recent series of mishaps. We need leadership to produce stronger gatekeepers to protect the pillars of freedom and independence in order to move toward a more mature democracy.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk