[Viewepoint] Fuzzy on truth and falsehoods

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[Viewepoint] Fuzzy on truth and falsehoods

Gil Jae-kyong was a high-profile confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with the title of vice director of Secretariat whose primary task was overseeing Kim’s slush funds. A local wire service’s scoop about Gil fleeing North Korea and seeking asylum in the United States raised a media hoopla at home and abroad seven years ago.

A few days later, the JoongAng Ilbo released a photo of Gil’s tombstone in North Korea’s cemetery for patriots. A single photo quelled a media storm of unsubstantiated rumors.

Daniel Seon-Woong Lee, better known by his stage name Tablo, has been touted as a modern Renaissance man. He completed a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in English and creative writing at Stanford University in just three and a half years, and published a short story collection that became a best seller in Korea. He writes lyrics and produces almost all of the songs for his hip-hop group, Epik High.

But Tablo’s extraordinary profile made him an easy prey for controversy-seeking Internet predators. Bloggers accused him of lying about his academic background and called him a hypocrite for having joint Korean and Canadian nationality.

The Korea JoongAng Daily published his academic transcript from Stanford in June, and then a documentary film crew accompanied him to Stanford and interviewed his professors and even the cafeteria staff. The mainstream media helped to end the surreal showdown between the singer and his Internet attackers.

Newsweek recently ran a feature story on what has been killed by Internet technology. Among them are the 9-to-5 work concept, video/DVD rental shops, mental concentration, civility, CDs, the telephone book and letter writing. Privacy and factual accuracy have also been mauled. On the Web, hearsay spreads faster than facts.

A blogger wrote on his Web page that North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in response to South Korea’s firing into its waters, and that we should thank the North for firing incendiary shells rather than explosive ones, which could have wiped out the island. The prosecution sought an arrest warrant for the man for spreading false statements, but the court rejected it, saying the comments had not done any real damage.

The same man is under trial for claiming that the Cheonan naval ship sank after colliding with an American submarine. Members of the prosecution recommended stronger action, saying the man was misleading the public and spreading false statements without remorse. The lawyers appear to have more sense than the judge.

The press must draw a line between fact and false reports, and courts between what is true and what is false. The tidal wave of conspiracy theories since the sinking of the Cheonan has aggravated our ideological divide and the polarization of public opinion.

This is as hazardous to our society as a physical barrage. The judge is blind to the fact that Internet guerilla warfare is rapidly eating away at the bedrock of truth in our society.

In a rare mutiny, Catholic priests are calling for the Archbishop of Seoul to resign, accusing him for distorting their beliefs. In a press conference, the left-wing Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice argued that Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk misrepresented the views of bishops on the government’s four-rivers restoration project and reiterated that they are opposed to the plan.

A group of retired priests also demanded an apology from the cardinal for his comment that bishops are simply concerned about the environmental risks and not the project itself.

A JoongAng Ilbo reporter who sat next to the cardinal during the interview reported the cardinal’s exact words.

He didn’t say that he approved or disapproved of the project. “God has told man to take care of the earth,” he said. “That means to develop and not destruct. Natural destruction is not the will of God. The river project itself is neither good nor evil.”

He finished his neutral comments on a mysterious note. “Man sees what he wants to see and hears what he wants to hear.”

The truth has no place in society if its members hold fast to ideological polarities. A society that’s fuzzy on what is true and false is unhealthy. If Internet hearsay has authority over facts, and courts and churches fail to discern between right and wrong, the common people will lose hope and fall astray.

*The writer is head of the Gyeonggi Culture Foundation and former president of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Kwon Young-bin
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