President’s media perspective

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President’s media perspective


Koh Dae-hoon
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

While letting go of his beloved Justice Minister Cho Kuk, the president turned the blame on the press by stressing the role of balanced media. After Cho announced on Monday he was resigning from his controversial title, President Moon Jae-in apologized for causing “public conflict and pain.” He then referred to the role of the media. He asked for “endeavors for self-reform to be reborn as a credible media.” He suggested the reform drive under Cho was impeded by the media “that does not stop to reflect on itself and therefore lost credibility.” The ruling force underscored the tone of the president’s disappointment and disgruntlement with the media.

But with whom is the president disappointed? The media has long been a tilted playing field. Few among the mainstream press names take a critical stance against the government. News and other programs on TV and radio are mostly favorable to the government, not to mention public broadcasters running on public fees like KBS and TBS, that more or less pose as propagandist mouthpiece channels. The city of Seoul provided choppers and installed cranes to aid the broadcasting of the rally in support of Cho around the judiciary complex at Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, last Saturday. Journalists at liberal newspapers have been protesting to their editors for restraint on the coverage of the irregularities of the Cho family. The liberal media has been criticizing its conservative counterpart for underrating the “good intentions” of the government.

It is how the president has come to interpret the sight of rallies — pro and against Cho — as the “healthy ascent of direct democracy” instead of “public divide.” Moon may have believed his die-hard fandom and favorable media front could have prevailed over the opposition against Cho. His eyes would have been blinded by the aberrations supplied by the media in his favor. He opted not to see or hear the crowds rallying against Cho or the irregularities and unfairness of the government at Gwanghwamun. He reluctantly withdrew Cho after he no longer could neglect the raging cries. Still, he was disappointed because he must have believed that if there had been more “self-reflective and credible” media on his side, he would not have had to pull down Cho.

The ruling front has been judging the media with an ideological dichotomy. One is for or against reform depending on the support for Cho. Those criticizing Cho were perceived as hampering prosecutorial reform. Critical press are accused of spreading bogus news and paining innocent members of the Cho family through exaggerating suspicions, violating human rights and reporting on unverified allegations.


Left: Anti-Cho Kuk protesters stage a rally on the streets of Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on Oct. 3. Right: Cho Kuk supporters gather on the streets near the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, on Sept. 28. [JOONGANG ILBO]

The essence of the investigation on Cho’s family is the alleged elitist crimes. It should not be an issue of contesting ideology or the conservative versus the progressive. It is a simple criminal investigation on the irregularities around the buildup of family wealth and academic background and whether any favoritism or other corruption has been involved in the process. The probe should focus on why the Cho family enjoyed all the prerogatives that cannot be imagined by the common people. The media has the role of tracing the facts. Justice and fairness have been ruthlessly violated. There is no reason why a news organization must come under fire for questioning the follies and fallacies. Reforms are important, but that alone cannot be a reason to cover and glorify Cho’s flaws.

The government cannot interfere in the role of the media, Moon said, but nevertheless, his expression of complaint may trigger additional protests on “media reform” from his loyal supporting base, just as some of the media had been painted as “pro-Japan” for proposing efforts to improve ties with Japan after export curbs.

Joseph Goebbels had been the notorious propaganda minister under Nazi Germany, ascending to the title at the age of 35. He believed the media must act as the piano playing the tunes for the governing power. He set out a campaign to control the radio, the mass medium of the times, by distributing cheap receivers to homes and installing loudspeakers in public spaces to serve propagandist means for building and spreading Hitler’s cult.

If society is forced to follow a single value, ideology and perspective, and opposing views or diversity are suppressed and society complies, it more or less is turning totalitarian. Voices at Seocho and Gwanghwamun must both be respected. The media must be able to speak differently. A media succumbing to the pressure of the government is servitude. The president must change his media perspective. His aides should answer for causing social confusion for more than two months and misguiding the president. They are largely accountable for the president’s loss of good judgment and balance and for isolating him from the public.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct.18, Page 31
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