Ahn battles growing rumors, fake news reports

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Ahn battles growing rumors, fake news reports

The People’s Party declared Monday a war against fake news and malicious slander against its presidential candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo, as rumors concerning him spread fast in recent days.

Ahn was nominated as the centrist party’s presidential candidate last week, scoring sweeping victories in a nationwide primary. His rating skyrocketed in the polls to challenge the longtime frontrunner, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party.

The first rumor, which involved Ahn’s suspected ties to an organized gang, began after he visited Jeonju on March 24 and took a photo with a group of young men after a special lecture.

Members of Moon’s camp claimed Ahn was cooperating with an organized gang to win votes, identifying some of the men in the photo as gang members.

The People’s Party and Ahn dismissed the claim, and Ahn said the suspicion was laughable.

Another rumor spread that Ahn was backed by a controversial religious organization, Shincheonji, and that cult members registered with the party en masse to support Ahn in the primary.

Fake news reports also spread last week that surviving families of the fallen sailors of the Cheonan, which was torpedoed by North Korea in 2010, were kicked out of the National Cemetery in Daejeon due to Ahn’s visit.

An Internet user, who claimed that his nephew was killed during the incident, said People’s Party officials demanded that the families leave during their visit on March 26, the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. “They said a VIP was coming, so all the families must leave,” he wrote, adding that People’s Party officials used force.

The party quickly refuted the claim, saying Ahn visited the cemetery on the day in question but that there was no such demand. It also presented a video recording of the event, showing families freely walking around Ahn at the cemetery.

The People’s Party vowed Monday to use all legal means to fight any slander against its candidate. “We will operate a tip line to combat fake news,” said Rep. Park Jie-won, chairman of the People’s Party. “We hope the people will cooperate to root out fake news.”

Park also said the party will actively consider sponsoring a law to punish fake news, based on the German precedent. Germany punishes producers of fake news with up to five years in prison and media that distribute fake news can be fined 500,000 euros ($528,973) per case.

“Fake news is a heinous crime that blinds, deafens and deceives the people,” said party spokesman Jang Jin-young. He also expressed his belief that there was an organized attempt by Ahn’s rival to spread fake news.

Ahn has also demanded that his rivals, particularly Moon, conduct fair campaigns.

“I proposed to Moon to have a debate, but I was answered with negative attacks,” Ahn said Monday in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

“The theme was an organized gang the day before yesterday, and it was Shincheonji yesterday,” he said. “I wonder if they will use aliens today. Because our party’s symbolic color is green, they will probably say we chose it because my blood is green.”

After visiting the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju, he again said, “[Moon] must not hide behind negative campaigning. He must present his vision, policy and leadership in a debate.”

Ahn proposed Wednesday to hold a one-on-one debate with Moon, without using prepared scripts. Moon, however, rejected the offer, saying Ahn was not qualified to propose such a debate.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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