Court close to ruling on Yomiuri’s Dokdo report

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Court close to ruling on Yomiuri’s Dokdo report

The veracity of a Japanese newspaper’s account of President Lee Myung-bak’s allegedly passive response to a Japanese claim over the Dokdo islets will be determined by a local court next month.

The Seoul Central District Court heard a civil suit yesterday, filed last year by a group of Koreans against Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun. The court said it will hand down a verdict on April 7.

The 1,886 plaintiffs claimed that the mass-circulation daily’s “groundless report” about a Korea-Japan summit had infringed upon Korea’s sovereignty over the Dokdo islets and the self-esteem of Koreans, demanding monetary compensation and a correction.

Shortly after a Korea-Japan summit in July 2008, the Yomiuri reported that President Lee did not strongly protest the position of his Japanese counterpart regarding the Dokdo islets. The report, dated July 15, 2008, said Japan’s prime minister at the time, Yasuo Fukuda, told Lee during the summit of Tokyo’s decision to call Dokdo “Takeshima” and refer to it as a Japanese territory in new teaching manuals for middle school teachers.

The report said Lee did not protest, only telling Fukuda that “the timing was not right” and asked Japan to “wait.”

The Blue House vehemently denied the report shortly after it was made, as did the Japanese government.

In the courtroom yesterday, the plaintiffs argued that the Yomiuri had removed the concerned article from its Internet Web site in a de facto admission that it was a false report.

The Yomiuri said that its report was not inaccurate and other Japanese media, including the Asahi Shimbun, had similar reports at the time.

The plaintiffs wanted Lee Dong-kwan, senior Blue House secretary for public affairs, to testify as a witness, but the Yomiuri opposed, arguing that the request was “politically motivated.”

The suit was filed by a group of Koreans who oppose the Lee administration. Democratic Party deputy spokesman Lee Jae-myung and members of an anti-Lee Internet group participated in the suit.

“Although the Blue House said the report was groundless and unacceptable, it did not take legal action against the newspaper and the report was never corrected,” they said last year after filing the suit. “In an international territorial dispute, the historical record is important. Unless the report about Lee’s alleged remarks is formally corrected, the report may be used as grounds for an argument in the future that a Korean president had at least indirectly accepted Japan’s territorial claim.”

The group said if the lawsuit finds that Lee, indeed, made the remarks, he must be held accountable legally and politically. Representative Lee Jong-kul of the Democratic Party said on Monday that Lee should face impeachment if the court finds that the president had made the remarks.

The Blue House has repeatedly shown frustration toward the deepening domestic political trouble over what it called “an inaccurate report” in the foreign media.

“The day after the Yomiuri published the report in 2008, a spokesman of Japan’s Foreign Ministry held a press conference and made it clear that the Yomiuri’s report was inaccurate,” Park Sun-kyoo, a Blue House spokesman, said Tuesday.

“At the time, the spokesman said it was inappropriate to disclose every single detail of the conversations of the state leaders at a summit.”

Park also quoted a Tokyo official as saying that the Japanese government’s stance was not even decided at the time of the summit.

By Ser Myo-ja []
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