Government must find the truthStrange and unidentifiable phenomenon causes nervousness. When coupled with the authorities’ laidback responses, it could easily trigger unnecessary scare among the public. The wild rumors after suspicious stinks on the beach of Busan on Thursday and the southern districts of Ulsan, South Gyeongsang, on Saturday, are a classic example. Five days into a panicky situation, however, the authorities have not yet discovered where the bad smell came from.
In the meantime, wild rumors are spreading fast. Some say it’s a sign of an upcoming massive earthquake on the Korean Peninsula, while others attribute it to Jupiter Project, the U.S. Forces Korea’s defense system against enemies’ chemical and biological attacks. The rumor that North Korea disseminated lethal viruses to the southern region also went viral on the Internet through various social media platforms.
The ungrounded rumors simply do not stop there. Some pundits came up with unconfirmed allegations that the terrible smell comes from illegal acts of local petrochemical factories clustered in the Busan and Ulsan area and commercial ships off the beach to discharge polluted materials into the sea after weather reports on heavy monsoon rain there, which proved wrong.
Even though the strange smell has subsided by now, the wild rumors are in full swing due to the deepening public distrust in the authorities’ ability to effectively cope with it. In fact, Busan City took a “microscopic approach” to the bizarre case — for instance, tracking and investigating four suspicious tank trucks loaded with chemical materials after they crossed the Gwangan Bridge, or explaining that the smell could originate from the city government’s painting works on the bridge — instead of finding out more powerful reasons.
The Busan City government is under heavy criticism for belatedly sending text messages to citizens to warn potential health risks from the odor at 10:30 pm, Thursday, when all the fuss was over. Ulsan City followed in Busan’ steps by dispatching fire engines to the spot to check the degree of air pollution, but stopped way short of figuring out where the stinks came from.
When a strange noise was repeatedly heard in Yangju, Gyeonggi, five years ago, wild rumors spread that North Korea was digging an underground tunnel for infiltration into the South. But all the wild rumors subsided after the noise was related to a malfunctioning boiler in an apartment building. Wild rumors can easily help the public turn their backs on the government. Local governments must discover real reasons for the stink before it is too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 30
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