With power comes responsibilityThe Supreme Court has finally reached a consensus ruling on charges brought against Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, which stirred controversy by airing an episode of its investigative news program, “PD Diary,” that discussed the risk of acquiring mad cow disease from imported U.S. beef. The court upheld a lower court’s ruling that some of the information in the show was exaggerated and distorted. The key point was the claim that Koreans ran a 94 percent risk of being exposed to the mad cow disease if they consumed U.S. meat. The court decided this assertion was untrue.
It also upheld the ruling that producers of the program were not guilty of intentionally defaming government officials, including Chung Woon-chun, the then-minister of food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The program claimed that these officials risked the public health in deciding to lift a ban on U.S. beef imports.
Even though the producers have been cleared of slander, the fact that their program contained false information is now without doubt.
As such, the TV network should not regard its acquittal as a triumph. It must not forget the disruption it has caused or the repercussions of its irresponsible reporting on mad cow disease in April 2008.
Most of the population has stopped eating American beef, while the streets - not to mention the political stage - have been swamped with anti-American and antigovernment rallies and clashes for the last three months.
MBC must be held accountable for causing so much national and social harm.
The network apologized to the public 106 days after airing its first episode because it was ordered to do so by the Korea Communications Standards Commission. But the apology was neither spontaneous nor sincere. Furthermore, the broadcaster refused to heed the lower court rulings and pushed the legal battle to the Supreme Court as a last resort.
Now, MBC must sincerely acknowledge its mistake and apologize to the public upon the Supreme Court’s conclusive ruling that some of the information it presented as true was actually not.
The press must prize responsibility as much as freedom. It should exercise accountability for false reporting.
The first step would be a wholehearted apology. We will watch closely to see if MBC, as a guardian of the public trust, will commit itself to fair and accurate reporting from now on after the Supreme Court’s ruling.