In an episode of American television series “The Newsroom,” the news team broadcast an oil spill incident as breaking news. The chief producer orders the team to contact an expert, and a producer grumbles about where to find one so quickly. But another producer is already on the phone with a geology professor at a prestigious university. If the same situation happened in a Korean network, the producers and writers would be immediately calling lawyers or so-called current affairs commentators.
It might sound irrational, but it is certainly not unrealistic, at least in Korea today. Rather than scientific analysis of the impact on the ocean ecosystem, viewers want to hear superficial and entertaining comments. The reality in Korean media is closer to fiction than the fictional American drama.
On some current affairs programs, lawyers and political commentators make appearances to discuss all topics from the private life of an actress to the instability of the North Korean regime. Their weapon of choice is smooth speech, and no one expects in-depth expertise of them. So their rhetoric is often extreme and sensational. One commentator who frequently appears as one of the “expert panelists” confessed that he is often asked to comment on a topic he has no idea about, and he sometimes does not know what he is saying, either.
The problem is that handling North Korea-related news so lightly does not help Korea’s national interests. The self-proclaimed North Korean specialists and North Korean defectors pour out speculative arguments, and they are dancing on thin ice. Sometimes, the foreign media are swayed by them. In May, CNN broadcast a false report that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un poisoned his aunt Kim Kyung-hee to death - based on the ungrounded testimonies of some defectors.
Recently, Ko Young-suk, Kim Jong-un’s aunt who defected to the United States, filed a defamation suit against three defectors. Ko and her husband claimed that the defectors discussed their stories on television when they were not in a position to know the situation. It is ridiculous and ironic that Ko and her husband are represented by Kang Yong-seok, an attorney who is on television frequently. Kang said in a phone conversation that the couple had seen Kang’s television appearances. The couple claims to have suffered because of “groundless” media coverage but appointed an attorney they saw on television. Am I the only one to feel that the dignity of our society is declining as the qualifications for experts is no longer necessary?
*The author is a political and international news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 5, Page 31
BY CHUN SU-JIN