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[Opinion] “Ferryboat of Lippmann”

Posted August. 15, 2004 22:11,   


Several British, French, and Germans lived on the island Walter Lippmann thought of. To the island, a British ferryboat came once every 60 days. It was September 1914, and about six weeks had passed since Britain-France combined forces launched a war against Germany. Islanders who have only one channel for the news outside the island lived in peace for six weeks before the captain brought news about the war. Mysteriously, however, serious fighting among the British, French, and Germans began on the island as news about war was delivered.

Walter Lippman begins a book, “Public Opinion” with this anecdote. It is intended to explain the importance of news and the somewhat paradox of it. However fierce war is, it has no power before the public knows it. So while news is important, it is paradoxical that peace is broken among those who are obscured on the island due to the news about the war, even though there were no individual grudges at all beforehand. If a ferryboat had not come to the island, peace on the island of Lippmann could have been maintained.

Recently, I often hear talks from government officials blaming “a ferryboat of Lippmann.” Good examples are the presidential secretary’s criticism for the press and a “comment of armband” from the president himself. Senior presidential aide on public information said on August 8 that the Korean press reported economic outlooks, which brought a negative view to the forefront. The next day, President Roh said, “Several media firms are under an illusion that they wear armbands to exercise a wrongful power,” and he pledged that he would not yield to those armbands.

The Korean media’s way of reporting has many problems. Probably the most serious problems are inciting political strife by overly reporting vulgar remarks of politicians, without ascertaining whether they are true, which a journalist expressed as “garrulity.” Now, we must pay attention to works, not words, write practices rather than plans, and write a bill rather than meeting on party affairs. It would be a funny experiment for reporters not to interview politicians for about a week. Space left can be devoted by opinions of citizens who are consumers of politics. However, we can’t disconnect with a ferryboat. Even though we do it, war doesn’t disappear nor does the economy get better.

Lee Jae-kyung Guest Editor, Professor of Ewha University, Journalism