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[Opinion] Inaccurate Reports

Posted March. 13, 2003 22:27,   


It is hard to find misprints in the newspaper these days. In the past, when people chose each letter when printing words, however, there was surely no sparing of errors. In August 1950 when the nation was still in the grips of conflict with the North, the Daegu Maeil Shinmun referred to President Lee as Gyuntongryong, which happened to mean the head of dogs, instead of Daetongryong (the head of people) on its first page. After the unfortunate incident, the owner of the newspaper company was arrested and the editor was forced to resign. Government officials and associates of the president took it as a personal affront, but looking back, it seems slightly too harsh for such an innocent mistake.

In 1954, the Busan Ilbo made a similar mistake and was cited by the government. After a series of fatal mistakes, newspaper companies began to take self-preservation measures. They made certain sets of letters such as `President Lee Seung-man` and `President Park Jung-hee` to prevent any mistakes during the process of choosing letters. It is said that swiftness, accuracy and fairness are critical to press reports. Yet, there is a contradiction between swiftness and accuracy. When you try to deliver stories as quickly as possible, mistakes can and will be made.

President Roh proclaimed `a war on inaccurate reporting` and directed his secretaries to take due measures against `malicious reports`. False reports are surely shameful to the press, but even before the president initiated his campaign, the press itself should have tried harder to deliver accurate and fair stories. Yet, when the president referred to `inaccurate reports`, he did not seem to mean simple mistakes such as misprints. The meaning of an inaccurate report, indeed, can differ depending on the viewpoint. Unbiased reporting is not easy at all. For instance, the office of presidential aides and the spokesperson of Chong Wa Dae came up with two totally different stories about a single incident, in which President Roh was reported to have `pressured` Minister of Finance and Economy Kim Jin-pyo during a cabinet meeting.

During his presidential campaign, Roh saw both supporters and harsh critics from newspaper companies. The president, therefore, might have his own way of judging the press. He is though, neither a human rights activist nor a maverick politician anymore. He needs to listen to the many different and even opposing views to lead this country through the many obstacles lying ahead. We hope that his `war on inaccurate reporting` does not mean `a war on critical reporting`.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com