Watchdog takes on fake news

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Watchdog takes on fake news

Over the weekend, a 13-second video clip went viral that wasn’t what former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wanted anyone to see.

In it, Ban bowed before the grave of his father in Eumseong, North Chungcheong, during a visit there Saturday.

As is customary in Korea’s ancestral ritual, Ban held up a cup filled with traditional Korean alcohol, which was supposed to be poured in front of the tomb.

Instead, Ban drank the liquor himself, a scene that elicited ridicule and incredulousness over how the 72-year-old career diplomat could be so ignorant of centuries-old Korean custom.

It turned out the clip was maliciously edited to discredit the former UN chief and presumed presidential candidate.

The original, which runs more than a minute and a half, shows Ban performing the ritual properly. Only afterward does he drink a second shot.

Fake news has come to Korea: information that claims to present real facts, which have been deliberately distorted.

Alarmed by the emergence of intentionally produced misinformation, the state-run election watchdog recently launched a special task force aimed at cracking down on distribution of fake news.

It says it will bring legal charges against transgressors and go after people who distribute it, according to the JoongAng Ilbo.

The National Election Commission’s (NEC) campaign against fake news comes as an increasing number of people use social media sites such as Facebook to read news, making them more susceptible to fabricated information.

To rein in such misinformation, it dispatched 182 of its workers to special-purpose teams at 17 regional offices nationwide.

“With a presidential election approaching this year, we are likely to face a flood of fake news reports of the kind that shook the U.S. presidential election last year,” an NEC official said.

Politicians and the local press have not been spared from fake news.

Broadcaster YTN reported last November that Republican candidate Donald J. Trump urged U.S. voters to take a look at what happened to Korea with its female president as the Choi Soon-sil scandal unfolded to discredit his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

The Republican nominee never made such a remark. The broadcaster was duped by a false report created by a South Korean internet user.

South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung recently cited a news report in which recently elected UN chief Antonio Guterres publicly expressed an objection to Ban’s potential presidential bid in Korea, citing a UN resolution adopted in 1948.

But the incumbent UN chief never made such a stance against his predecessor. And while a 1948 UN resolution recommends UN chiefs refrain from taking government positions, elected or non-elected, it only stipulates it is “desirable,” rendering the resolution not legally binding.

An, who cited the false report to demand Ban stay out of the election, had to withdraw his remark and acknowledge it was based on misinformation.

Fake news also spilled into a hearing by the Constitutional Court on an impeachment motion against President Park Geun-hye.

Seo Seog-goo, one of the defense lawyers representing the embattled president, tried to discredit weeks-long candlelight vigils in demanding the president step down for an unprecedented abuse of power scandal. Seo, a former judge, cited a report by North Korea’s state-run paper Rodong Sinmun during a hearing on Jan. 5, saying the paper had praised rally participants.

He said it would be a grave violation of the Constitution if the rallies were part of the court’s deliberations in favor of the president’s removal.

It turned out the 72-year-old lawyer was citing a false Rodong Sinmun report.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, HEO JIN [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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