A stifling law
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
I tried a burqa, the garment that covers both body and face in Afghanistan and other Islamic cultures. I had gone to a marketplace in Kabul to get a pakol, the round hat most Afghan men wear, to look less alien while I covered the civil war in the country. The all-enveloping burqas hung everywhere in the market in a range of colors. I tried one out of curiosity. I always wondered how people could see through the tiny mesh eyepiece.
But I had to stop before putting it on. The store owner asked what kind I wanted. The cheapest one was the equivalent of about 2,000 won ($1.70). The higher-end cost 10 times more. There were various kinds in the middle range. The difference largely had to do with what fabric was used. But to me, they all looked alike in design and function. My Afghan translator said they could instantly tell how expensive a burqa was. Even for a simple covering, people were willing to pay more to appear richer.
Vision was less of a problem. But breathing was difficult with the cloth covering the nose. I hated to imagine myself wearing a burqa in the summer heat. (It was late fall at the time.) The biggest problem was freedom of hand movement. Every time I moved my hands, the cloth would get in the way. The garment restrained my movement. To avoid the hassle, one would best stay at home. By wearing one, I came to realize how a burqa can constrain the mind and actions of people.
Proponents of the law cannot understand the strong opposition from the media, as they believe nothing will be a problem if journalists stick to reporting the facts. It is just like the Taliban denying they were confining women to their homes, as they only forced them to wear a burqa outside. Even politicians who used to be journalists echo the argument. But defining the fact and truth is never easy. Our society would recognize something as a “fact” if a Supreme Court ruling says so. Even the top court’s ruling is questioned by some. Former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook’s conviction for receiving a bribe is still being debated. Even with the presentation of a taped record or film, an accused can argue the conversation is edited, manipulated, and would sound different in the overall context.
All the people involved in a string of controversies under the Moon Jae-in administration — former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and his family scandal, Blue House meddling in the Ulsan mayoral election, and Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang’s corruption, for instance — called out news reports when the media first reported their alleged wrongdoings. Some of them still insist on their innocence as Supreme Court rulings are pending. Under the media burqa law, the press should not have reported on the allegations as they await final rulings by the highest court. Instead, the press should keep quite until the allegations involving Easter Jet or government-sponsored solar panel projects are fully investigated and tried by courts.
Reporters are also human and they like to play safe. Some may not compromise at first, but given the massive damages their companies may have to pay — and the lengthy legal process involved — they could eventually give in. In the days of a 24-hour news cycle, news will increasingly turn soft and mediocre. One day, the people enforcing the press burqa law — and those wearing one — will get used to the abnormality. News reports will be a trivial thing without any bombshell exposure or issues to be outraged about. An eerie peacetime is arriving.