A government divine

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A government divine


Ko Dae-hoon
The author is a senior editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The media is not a perfect mirror of its times. As gatekeepers, the media analyze events, issues and phenomena and package them for public consumption after the process of interpretation and evaluation. In journalism, the journey is called the social construction of reality. In the process, newspapers and broadcasters can create different frames depending on their ideologies and goals. That is how diversity in media is ensured.

It is natural for conservative and liberal media organizations to evaluate the government’s relentless push for so-called income-led growth — the key economic policy of President Moon Jae-in — in a different manner. Most back the goals of the policy: to build an idealistic society where everyone can live well. But negative framing of the policy is quite reasonable given the disastrous consequences of the ideology-led measures based on unconfirmed and half-backed ideas.

Moon has recently lashed out at the media for framing his economic policy as “a failure.’” He was disgruntled that the sincere endeavors of his government to increase income and consumption to generate jobs and growth in the economy through a higher wage base were unfairly challenged under the hyped “failure frame.” Some of his loyalists even attacked the reports for being “polluted by a conservative ideology alliance.” If that is true, how can the liberals explain their backing of the liberal media’s massive campaign to whip up the mad cow scare over U.S. beef imports under the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008?

Since Moon came to office in May 2017, the administration has injected a whopping 54 trillion won ($48 billion) as of the end of December to create jobs. Yet jobs and income disparities hover at their worst levels. That much money spent means the government has poured out tax revenues of 700 billion won a week for 78 weeks. What exactly is wrong about the media’s framing of the harsh livelihoods of common people? The tough reality won’t go away easily even if the frames are painted with rosy colors. Nevertheless, the government remains steadfast and plans to go its way. There is no correction or moderation under this ideology-driven administration.

The clampdown on “fake news” also originates with the liberal camp’s infatuation with perfection. Presiding over the first cabinet meeting of this year, Moon defined the mainstream media’s reports as bogus news. He may be referring to media reports on two whistle-blowers — Kim Tae-woo, a former special investigator at the Blue House, and Shin Jae-min, a former Finance Ministry official. According to the president, Kim attempted one of the most hideous scams against the government and Shin was a young man “engrossed in the affairs of his little world.” Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, reiterated that there were no wrongdoings by the Blue House, including the Blue House’s spying on private citizens as Kim accused. The Blue House clearly was sending a message to the press that it won’t accept any errors in their reports despite the reasonable doubts over the exposures and suspicions.

Where does such an obsession with its absolute righteousness come from? The book by Seoul National University honorary professor, Kim Kwang-woong — “A Deity-like Government” — provides interesting insights. The Moon administration is particularly evangelistic. It tries to brainwash the masses with abstract concepts like “candlelight vigil spirit,” justice, fairness and conviction. The administration implores a working class unexpectedly suffering from drastic wage hikes to “endure the pains of the transitional period.”

I asked the author Kim what really went wrong.

“How does a government become a deity?” I asked.

He answered, “The government can act a god’s role through its powerful administrative organizations and other resources as well as legitimate punishment authorized by laws and system.”

Then, should we obey a deity-like government?

He answered, “If one deems oneself at the level of a god, no wrongdoing is admissible. As in the case of an evil god of hypocrisy and lies, a deity-like government also cannot always be right and blindly worshipped.” As Martin Luther challenged the corruption of the Catholic Church, anyone has the right and freedom to question and criticize the government, he added.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Governments are grappling with fake news questioning their goodwill in many societies. Even if some of the news is intentionally fake, a government aspiring to be a deity-like institution must seek to engage the opposition by beseeching their understanding.

A god should be generous and embrace the doubts and distrust and pay attention to the voices of desperation and hunger. A society cannot be healthy if it is forced to comply with a universal framework of purity. If it really wants to be a god, the government should first shake off its fanatic obsession with perfection.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 31
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