[Viewpoint] Reporters’ dereliction of duty

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[Viewpoint] Reporters’ dereliction of duty

“The media must have heard something, right?” he asked, and I had nothing to say.

Last week, I met with a prosecutor-turned-attorney and discussed the “pi-city” bribery case. I was curious why the prosecutors could not launch an investigation over the scandal that began five or six years ago. He denied that the prosecutors were politically pressured. “It’s true that the prosecutors were reluctant to probe the allegations involving the mentor of the president (former chairman of the Korea Communications Commission Choi See-joong) or the powerful vice minister (former vice minister of knowledge economy Park Young-joon). But it is not likely that they were unaware of the wrongdoings and intentionally neglected the case. Young prosecutors wouldn’t have let that happen.”

He added, “But prosecutors can only begin investigations when we have evidence. Toward the end of the administration, those people who dealt money under the table grew apart, and evidence began to emerge.” But I could not completely agree with his explanation. He wanted to know why the media had not raised doubts on corruption of the high-ranking officials, and I had no answer for him.

In fact, I knew nothing about the pi-city case. However, I heard the rumors that former Vice Minister Park was described as the “king,” and he intervened even in the promotion and appointment decisions of private companies. I also heard that a man who claimed to be an adopted son of Choi See-joong played a part here and there.

If I had used these fractional rumors to begin an investigation, I may have been able to get to the surface of the case at least, if not the core of it. I was covering the trial of the unlawful surveillance on civilians. Surveillance documents have been added to the investigation record, and the case was pending at the Supreme Court. However, I did not have the heart to investigate the case. The document in question appeared only before the April 11 legislative election. The fraudulent primary of the Unified Progressive Party also became an issue around the same time. The undemocratic process within the progressive politicians was not a problem that arose overnight.

Facts are not forgiving, and they are bound to be revealed in the end. However, the affected area becomes inflamed and swollen if left untreated for too long. The media is responsible for not faithfully carrying out its function as a watchdog to investigate the “pi-city” case and the UPP’s primary scandal.

The failure is not unrelated to the criticism that the media has been the captive of progressive reasoning in the last four years. The Korean media became divided during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, especially after the 2008 candlelight protests. The conservative media harshly criticized the mistakes of the progressives but was relatively generous to the conservative camp. The liberal media was biased similarly.

Politicians seem to enjoy and encourage this tendency. When another media company reports on an issue, other media companies avoid it if it does not suit their taste. Instead, reporters are busy spreading the tweets of celebrities on their smartphones.

Collecting news material is very demanding both physically and mentally. It is hard to get close to the hidden truth unless you have excessive enthusiasm and aggressiveness. While the established media comfortably focused on the stories they want to see, secondary media such as the podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda,” or “I’m a Petty-Minded Creep,” emerged.

Choo Jin-woo, one of the hosts and a reporter of the newsweekly SisaIn, wrote about his investigation style in his book “Reporter Choo.” “I am and my articles are biased. But the process of becoming biased is calm and intense. I will keep throwing stones at those who abuse authority and power. I will follow them, curse at them and declare that they are the bad guys,” he states.

I do not support the direction and method the podcast hosts pursue. Nevertheless, I appreciate their pure, untamed passion and spirit. When the established media remained stagnant and were immersed in self-imposed censorship, their unyielding spirit appealed to the public.

Finally, newspapers and broadcasters have begun to compete over similar subjects. The cause is not just the timing of the final stage of the administration. Reporters need to bring out their investigative spirit and fight to get scoops and exclusive stories. Only then, the Korean media will open a new chapter for a hopeful future.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Suk-chun

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