Different isn’t wrongAll universities were ordered to close on May 18, 1980. On the previous night, most of the senior members of the student associations were arrested and the few who escaped went off the grid. Even before that, a round robin message was circulated among students about the location, date and time to gather when the schools were ordered shut. At noon, in front of the Yeongdeungpo Station in Seoul, university students gathered and held a demonstration. But it only lasted a moment. The protesters were dispersed even before they formed a scrimmage. Soldiers armed with guns behaved differently from riot police.
It took just a day for the resistance of the university students in Seoul to disappear. Newspapers censored by martial law were printed with blank spaces here and there. Disturbing rumors spread among the students. Some talked about a situation in Gwangju that they heard about over the phone, but it was hard to say what was true and what was false. It was a story too horrible and cruel to believe.
In Gwangju, the beginning was not much different than in Seoul. The only difference was that the students in Gwangju did not stand down when faced with the guns and bayonets of the new military authority. It was unclear who started the rumor, but some talked about North Korea’s military intervening to instigate the students. But that rumor disappeared when the shackles of military rule were removed from the nation. After the National Assembly’s hearings on the Gwangju massacre and the trials of the former president, what actually happened was laid bare for all to see and hear, once and for all.
Why are some people suddenly reviving the rumor about the North Korean involvement in Gwangju today? They obviously don’t hesitate to insult and offend a certain region. It would be totally unacceptable behavior if they were people who could remember the fear, despair and tears from those days. If they are conservatives who understand the efforts of President Park Geun-hye to unite the nation, they surely can not act this way.
Some thought it strange for the JoongAng Ilbo to report the undeniable facts of the historical record and publish a commentary. The memorial foundation of the Gwangju democratization movement expressed its appreciation, while some stubborn conservatives called the newspaper a traitor. Debates took place in Cyberspace. They must have mistaken an upright newspaper for being some kind of strange goblin, or the pet of a particular political faction.
The media itself has responsibility for factionalism and bias because they have lost the people’s trust. The press recently agreed that its industry is facing a crisis. Research reports were published by the Kwanhun Club and the Korea Press Foundation. They all pointed to the arrival of “new media” as the problem. And they concluded that the biggest reason for the new media’s emergence was the lack of trust in traditional media - and restoring it would solve the problem.
Showing no tolerance for different opinions was the thing that inflicted the most serious wound to the traditional press. Such a narrow-minded, intolerant practice has become a norm in our society.
When diverse opinions are allowed and discussions actively take place, a healthy debate can develop. The healthy conservatives and the healthy progressives are destined to be in a symbiotic relationship.
The New York Times is a liberal newspaper. And yet it treats conservative critics with respect and even fondness. William Safire, who was a speechwriter of President Richard Nixon, was its columnist for 33 years starting in 1973.
David Brooks, a well-known conservative columnist, has written for the newspaper twice a week since 2003. He and his liberal fellow columnist Paul Krugman often disagree with each other.
On polarization, Brooks said it was the outcome of the morale decay of the working class, while Krugman argued it was the outcome of economic inequality.
On President Barack Obama’s welfare policy, Brooks ridiculed it by saying he wondered if it could actually be carried out, while Krugman said Obama must push forward more boldly.
None of that changes the stance of the New York Times. The newspaper proudly states that its readers have the right to know how the conservatives think.
Starting Monday, the Hankyoreh and the JoongAng Ilbo started a joint project of publishing editorials on the same topic to fully show the contrasts in views. Although it is only once a week, the newspapers tried to give their readers editorials with polar opposite view so they can compare.
Readers are wise. Instead of being confused by the project, they will use it as an opportunity to better understand the people who have different opinions from them.
Being different doesn’t mean being wrong. The humble attitude that my thought may not always be right is the basis of democracy. Dialogue and compromise begin from there. Totalitarianism, whether it is from the right or the left, comes from forcing just one opinion.
For a newspaper, having its piece compared to another newspaper’s can become a mechanism to check any distortion of facts or somersaults of logic. It can be a catalyzer to stimulate the newspaper to think more carefully while paying more attention to various opinions. When we accept that thoughts different from ours exist and try to narrow down the difference, we can revive the benefits of public discussion. And I expect the spirit to spread far in our society, particularly in the world of social networking services.
*The author is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook