Framing the virus

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Framing the virus

Virus fears have turned frantic. People are emptying groceries and scurrying to find face masks that have become rare. Even China quarantines passengers flying in from Korea. Yet the Moon Jae-in administration is busy finding scapegoats.

Rep. Lee Jun-seok of the newly merged conservative coalition United Future Party claimed that there was a chat room on Telegram that acts as a hotbed of fake news. The chat room has received, he said, a mission to spread the rumor that the Shincheonji church is compromised of loyalists to the former conservative party which is aligned to impeached former President Park Geun-hye. The chat room has about a thousand members, he claimed. They are being mobilized to spread rumors to dump the blame on the ultra conservatives.

Cho Kuk, the former justice minister, returned to Facebook to criticize the church. He tweeted a link to a news article saying that the government has obtained the names of followers of the church in an apparent move to put the blame on the religious sect for worsening the infection. He also linked the news about the government’s calls for public support to fight the spread of the disease. He went so far as to post a government warning that those who defy inspection could face punishment. He is more or less transferring the responsibility to the people.

In a radio interview, Rep. Song Young-gil of the ruling Democratic Party said that he cannot understand why a legitimate pastor like Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon and opposition leader Hwang Kyo-ahn act like the Shincheonji church, which is under attack for being a religious cult. Outspoken liberal critic Chin Jung-kwon sneered that the “die-hard Moon loyalists” are running the rumor mill to connect the conservatives with the church.

President Moon Jae-in also contributed to this recklessness by mentioning the religious group in government meetings. This acted like a signal to his followers. As a result, the church has become a common enemy. But the fundamental fault lies with the government for refusing to ban the entry of Chinese people. The government cannot earn justice by turning the blame on the religious group or the opposition while taking no stance against China. The government must concentrate on their job of containing the disease and ensuring public safety instead of playing a blame game.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 26, Page 30
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