A tired old tune

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A tired old tune

Choi Min-woo

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s decision to block an MBC reporter from traveling on the presidential airplane during a recent overseas trip was petty. It was also unfair that he held a separate meeting inside the plane with only two of the reporters who accompanied him on the trip. It is no wonder that he was criticized for “selective perspective of the media.”

It was also unreasonable that Yoon said during his first morning press session on Nov. 18 after the Southeast Asian trip that he had chosen to exclude the MBC reporter “to defend the Constitution.” The only acceptable thing was that he had stressed the responsibility of the media by calling it one of the four pillars that support democracy, since we see a surge of fake news these days.

A confrontation occurred shortly after his comments. As Yoon finished his press session and left, the MBC reporter shouted at him. “What do you mean by malicious?” It was more like picking a fight, rather than asking a question. The terrestrial broadcaster seems to have decided to be an active participant in the daily story, rather than an observer. As Lee Ki-jeong, the president’s public relations secretary, tried to stop the reporter, they started bickering. “Show me the evidence that our report is malicious,” said the MBC reporter. “Are we still living in a military regime?” “What a dictatorship!” Lee had a hard time stopping the reporter. The argument showed the actual power hierarchy in Korean society.

When a source complains that a report is unfair, the media has the responsibility to prove that it is not. But MBC demanded that the presidential office show evidence. Later in the day, the presidential office offered detailed reasons why it views MBC reports as malicious. The office said the broadcaster repeatedly reported subtitles of some inaudible comments of Yoon, which even voice recognition experts could not confirm. MBC even asked the White House and the U.S. State Department to respond as if Yoon truly used vulgar words about them, the presidential office said. It also said the U.S. State Department had responded that it had no problem with the current situation. But the broadcaster did not report that.

While MBC insisted that other media outlets also reported Yoon’s controversial comments, the presidential office made clear that MBC was the only outlet that reported Yoon’s comments completely erroneously.

As it was cornered, MBC also issued a statement. “The state leader, without clear grounds, called our reports fake news and malicious, and those are threatening remarks that can undermine the freedom of the press,” MBC said. “We express serious concern.” While the presidential office presented many reasons why MBC’s reports were fake, the broadcaster offered a general statement without specific refutations. It is clear which side is closer to the truth if one side only repeats a basic position, while the other argues with detail.

Coincidentally, aides of Democratic Party Chairman Lee Jae-myung are acting similar to MBC. Jeong Jin-sang, Lee’s close aide, attended his detention warrant hearing on Nov. 18 and claimed that the prosecution is conducting an investigation based on fabricated evidence. Jeong was detained the next day for receiving over 140 million won ($103,055) in alleged bribes from developers of the Daejang-dong project. The prosecution also alleges that Jeong was promised a 24.5-percent stake in a private developer’s investment in return for helping the developer win the project.

After Jeong was detained, Lee posted a message on his Facebook. “I believe truth will not go down,” he wrote. Previously, Lee said, “The prosecution has very little creativity. It cannot write a great novel.” Instead of refuting charges against him specifically, Lee just criticized the prosecution with political rhetoric.

In his trial on Nov. 21, Nam Wook, a lawyer linked to the Daejang-dong development scandal, testified that he had heard from Kim Man-bae, another key figure of the scandal, that Lee was the owner of a stake in the project.

After his closest aide exposed some of the truth behind the development scam, Lee is repeating that he was a victim of political revenge. MBC’s claim that it is a victim of press oppression and Lee’s claim that his party is a victim of political oppression are a tired old tune.
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