Acquittal upheld in case involving mad cow disease

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Acquittal upheld in case involving mad cow disease

An appeals court upheld the acquittal of five Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation production staffers yesterday on charges of defaming government officials and obstructing U.S. beef importers’ business by broadcasting a controversial “PD Diary” episode about mad cow disease in 2008.

Four producers and a script writer at MBC were indicted by prosecutors in June of last year for airing the episode of the investigative program PD Diary in April 2008.

Prosecutors argued that PD Diary staffers intentionally distorted facts and exaggerated the risk of mad cow disease in U.S. beef and thus defamed Chung Woon-chun, former Minister for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Min Dong-seok, one of the negotiators in the U.S.-beef import deal.

Shortly after MBC aired the episode, which addressed the possible risks of U.S. beef, the Lee administration faced massive public protests.

The streets of downtown Seoul were marred by violent clashes between police and demonstrators throughout the summer. Lee eventually issued two apologies.

In the trial, presided over by Seoul Central District Court Judge Lee Sang-hoon, Lee acknowledged prosecutors’ argument that some parts of the episode exaggerated and distorted threats of mad cow disease linked to American beef.

The ruling runs counter to a January ruling by a lower court, which ruled the reports cannot be considered false.

Lee, however, dismissed prosecutors’ argument that MBC staffers intentionally defamed Chung and Min.

“Though some parts of the episode turned out to be false due to mistranslation and exaggeration by staffers, it’s difficult to judge that the defendants deliberately did this,” Lee said.

The court said it’s difficult to say that the PD Diary episode hurt the reputations of the government officials and obstructed the business of U.S. beef importers because the report was about the threat of mad cow disease linked to U.S. beef and “wasn’t directly related to the reputation of individuals.”

“Criticism against government officials shouldn’t be restricted easily, except for evil intention to hurt government officials, because the duties of government officials are watched over by the people,” Lee said.

Prosecutors said they will appeal the case again.

“It’s unacceptable that the court acknowledged some part of the episode was distorted and exaggerated but dismissed that it hurt the reputation of the two government officials,” a prosecutor said.


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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