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Reporters Forced into Briefing Rooms, Sequestered From Reporting Scene

Reporters Forced into Briefing Rooms, Sequestered From Reporting Scene

Posted August. 24, 2007 07:29,   


“Close down the press rooms and transform them into briefing rooms. Visits by reporters to government offices to collect news materials are restricted. Any public servant who accepted an interview with a reporter must inform the authorities.”

The rules seem to be a part of the recently controversial “Press Support Advancement Initiative” of the Government Information Agency. However, they are the main points of the “Measures to Operate Public Relations,” brought up by then-Minister of Culture and Tourism, Lee Chang-dong, on March 14, 2003. This was Lee’s first attempt to suppress the media, saying that as far as the media is concerned, he agrees whole-heartedly with President Roh Moo-hyun.

Four years later, his remarks have finally been realized. The initial anti-media policies were focused on the enactment of the newspaper law – which the government calls a “reformation enactment” – suppression of newspapers with critical opinions against the government through the Fair Trade Commission, and the separation of the media into groups through lawsuits and the Press Arbitration Commission. By closing down press rooms, the policies have become stronger, and now the government is oppressing the freedom of reporting and collecting news materials, which are the very essence of the freedom of the press.

However, this action was predicted in the past. These stubborn media policies are the acme of President Roh’s suppression of the press, who made great efforts in criticizing the media through remarks such as, “Journalists sit all day in the press room and lead the current of the news,” “The press is just like adulterated food.” Also, his measures are the pinnacle of his closed perspective on the press.

Nevertheless, the participatory government is sugarcoating the faulty press policy, which deteriorates the freedom of media, with the banner of “Press Support Advancement Initiative.” Every media outlet is defying the policy regardless of its ideology and type. However, unlike the government’s pungent remarks, this is not to protect its vested interests. This is because if the government’s measure is accepted or unchecked, the freedom of the press and people’s right to know, which are protected under the constitution, will be severely violated.

The following are some examples of the participatory government’s closed and distorted perspectives on the press and its problems, and the various negative side effects that have resulted from these perspectives.

“This is the Bureau of Public Information calling. I heard that you asked for an interview with director A?”

B, a reporter of The Dong-A Ilbo, called a secretary for an interview with A, a director of the Ministry of Finance and Economy. A few minutes later, an employee from the Bureau of Public Information called.

“Why are you trying to meet director A? You need to contact the Bureau of Public Information in advance if you wish to conduct an interview.”

The reporter suddenly lost his tongue. Surprisingly, the secretary in question had immediately told the Bureau of Public Information that the reporter was trying to meet with A.

Mandatory advanced notice to meet a news source-

The “Press Support Advancement Initiative,” which will enter into effect on September 1, is already restricting the reporters in collecting news materials.

Before enforcing these measures, the government came up with the “Criteria in the Collection of News Materials” as a directive of the Prime Minister. Korea is the only country to limit reporting about the government with an express provision.

The most poisonous provision is the part that concerns the interview with reporters, stated on the third chapter.

The directive stipulates that the face-to-face interview with a public servant should only take place in a briefing room or a designated reception room. If a reporter tries to meet with a public servant in an office, one must to report their objective and news source to the Bureau of Public Information in advance. In addition, a public servant who meets or talks on the phone with a reporter must inform the Bureau of Public Information of the meeting.

Once the law is enforced, where, who, why, for how long a reporter met with somebody will be easily identified through the Bureau of Public Information in each ministry. This is similar to the society described in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, where Big Brother controls all.

It will be impossible for reporters to freely meet with public servants to collect information and write about a suspicious event. And the press, which has to check the government on behalf of the people, whether it is doing its job, or there is no corruption, will have to write articles with refined information unilaterally provided by the government itself.

Reason for closing down or consolidating news transmission offices-

Recently, in all ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the news transmission office that was used by reporters to write news and collect information had been closed down. The reporters are being forced to move to the newly established Consolidated Briefing Room. However, only Seoul, Gwacheon, and Daejeon have one Consolidated Briefing Room each, and it makes them almost impossible to collect news materials about the happenings in each ministry and to meet their publishing deadlines.

The 1985 incident of the late Park Jong-cheol’s torture resulting in death, and many other accidents, incidents of corruption, and problems in governmental policy were revealed to the public by reporters who stayed in ministry buildings, police offices, and the prosecutors’ offices day and night to compete with each other.

Government’s direct oppression of the press-

The government is trying to maximize its efforts on public relations reporting through state-run media outlets. It is hiring more people in the KTV, a government-run press agency, while restricting the private media.

Last week, the government passed a reformation bill to hire 10% more employees in the Government Information Agency, including KTV. It can be interpreted as an attempt to increase public reporting and control the cycle of information production, distribution, and reflection into the public opinion.

Choi Yeong-jae, a professor of Journalism and Information Studies in Hallym University, noted, “The improvement of the system should be considered and implemented by the press itself, not by the government. Once the government tries to introduce media liberalization, the freedom of the media is disrupted.”

Increased resistance from reporters-

The antagonism from the reporters is gaining in ferocity with opposition continuously declared against the government’s unilateral “Press Support Advancement Initiative.”

Thirty-nine local leaders of the Journalists Association of Korea in Seoul released a statement on August 23 opposing the government’s unilateral closure and consolidation of press rooms.

They said, “The government’s restricting opportunities for a reporter to meet with public servants with the Press Support Advancement Initiative is undemocratic. This reminds us of the press control that took place in the fifth republic dictatorship. News transmission rooms should be located in each ministry building.”

They also added, “If the government pushes for the enforcement of the measures, we will consolidate not only with the media groups but also civic groups to resist.”

In advance, the reporters accredited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and police offices, released a statement opposing the “Press Support Advancement Initiative.”