Clear away suspicionsOn July 18, KBS reported that it confirmed “circumstantial evidence of collusion” between Lee Dong-jae, a former Channel A reporter, and Han Dong-hoon, former deputy head of the Busan High Prosecutors’ Office, ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections. The state-run broadcaster said that a transcript of a conversation showed Han trying to help the reporter dig up some dirt on high-level officials in the Moon Jae-in administration before the election. After the news broke, many citizens harbored suspicions about the possibility of the senior prosecutor encouraging the Channel A reporter to gather news inappropriately.
However, according to a transcript released by Lee, the reporter, Han did not make any comments that can be interpreted as a willingness to help the reporter. Instead, Han flatly refused to offer any information, for instance, on pro-government commentator Rhyu Si-min, an outspoken liberal pundit. After KBS was criticized for broadcasting “fake news,” the broadcaster apologized.
KBS insiders soon obtained a transcript of a conversation between a KBS reporter and his news source. In the transcript, the news source made remarks suggestive of collusion between Han and the Channel A reporter, saying Han wanted to help the reporter find some evidence of corruption among government officials. Based on the transcript, KBS ended up reporting fake news. A conservative union of KBS has raised suspicion that the KBS reporter’s news source is an aide of Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office head Lee Seong-yun.
If the aide really offered false information to the KBS reporter and KBS blindly reported it, that constitutes an exemplary case of collusion between the prosecution and the press. More broadly, given top prosecutor Lee’s close relations with Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, the false news report can be an offshoot of tripartite collusion among the sitting power, the prosecution and the press.
The frame of collaboration between the prosecution and the press — which was set up by MBC first and then fueled by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) — is crumbling fast after the exposure of a transcript of dialogue between Lee, the Channel A reporter, and Han, the senior prosecutor. People with common sense can hardly regard their conversation as collusion. What attracts our attention is the suspicious relations between the KBS reporter and his news source in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. Someone apparently leaked false information and a KBS reporter aired it without checking its veracity.
KBS must make clear who the news source was. Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate KBS.