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Roh Administration’s “Hate Practice” Against the Press<1>

Roh Administration’s “Hate Practice” Against the Press<1>

Posted December. 12, 2007 21:08,   

한국어

[Prologue]

“Close the press rooms and change them into briefing rooms. Restrict the reporters’ entry to government offices. Public servants who have had interviews with news media must report the details to the superior office.”

The statement above bears a resemblance to the content of the Government Information Agency’s “Advanced Media Support System,” which has recently sparked much controversy. However, it is the gist of the “Operational Plans for Promoting Public Relations” announced on March 14, 2003 by Lee Chang-dong, then-Minister of Culture and Tourism. The measure, which faithfully reflected Roh’s view on the press, was the incumbent administration’s first attempt to suppress the press by former Minister Lee, who claimed himself to be “President Roh’s other self when it comes to the press.”

Four and a half years after the statement, each word of it has become a reality. The Roh administration has not only enacted the so-called “reform bills” that are designed to control newspapers, but has also prompted the Fair Trade Commission to add pressure on newspapers. The Roh administration’s hostile policy towards the press, which initially forced media outlets to take sides, has become more stringent; the press rooms have been closed, and the freedom of the press, including news-coverage activities of journalists, has been threatened.

However, this was predicted from the beginning. The administration’s recent media policy merely represents the culmination of President Roh’s oppression of the press and his “closed view” on it which does not even tolerate “healthy criticism.” In fact, President Roh has been making all-out efforts to find faults or attack the press while making countless vulgar comments such as, “Journalists stay cooped up in the press rooms and steer the direction of articles,” and “The media is junk food.”

Nonetheless, the participatory government has labeled its twisted press policy, which is tantamount to an attempt to reverse history, as the “Advanced Media Support System.” However, what makes all the journalists resist the government’s new media policy, regardless of their ideological differences or media outlets they belong to, is not their desire to protect their vested interests as the government claims. This is, in fact, because they firmly believe that the acceptance or negligence on the government’s media policy will severely damage both the freedom of the press and the people’s right to know.

This series will introduce the realities and problems of the participatory government’s narrow-minded and distorted view on the press and various side effects that have been caused by it.

Roh Administration’s “Hate Practice” Against the Press (Part I-1): “Advanced Media Support System” Binds Journalists’ Hands and Feet

Government Confines Journalists in Briefing Rooms to Thwart On-Site News Coverage

(“This is the public affairs office. I heard that you requested an interview with director ‘A,’ am I right?” A Dong-A Ilbo reporter recently called the personal assistant of director “A” of the government’s financial department to arrange an interview. In just a few minutes, he received a phone call from an employee of the public affairs office.

“Could you tell me why you are trying to meet director ‘A.’ If you want to have an interview, you have to inform it to the public affairs office beforehand.” The reporter became speechless. He was surprised to find out that the personal assistant immediately informed the public affairs office about the reporter’s attempt to meet director ‘A.’)

Advance Reporting Prior to Contacting News Sources-

The so-called “Advanced Media Support System,” which the government plans to implement from October 1, has already achieved a significant effect on restricting news coverage activities.

Ahead of the implementation of the new reporting system, the government adopted the prime minister’s directive, labeled “Media Support Standards,” making Korea the only country in the world where the journalists’ code of conduct is “stipulated” with regard to the government-related news coverage activities.

One of the most “poisonous articles” of the directive is Article 3 which defines how to respond to media interviews.

Under the directive, public servants must meet reporters only in a briefing room or a designated reception room for an interview. If a reporter is to meet a public official in his or her office, the reporter must inform of the purpose of the interview and the news source to the public affairs office in advance. The directive also mandates public servants who have met or talked to reporters over the phone to report the details of conversation to the public affairs office after their encounter with reporters.

Once the reporting system is implemented, the government will have comprehensive data that reveal which reporters met whom, when, why, and for how long through the public affairs offices. This new system reminds us of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” which depicts a totalitarian society where “Big Brother” controls everything. This will eventually make public officials avoid contact with reporters and, even if they meet reporters, it will be increasingly difficult for them to disclose problems in government policies or their honest opinion.

It will be virtually impossible for reporters to meet government officials without interruption or to receive sufficient information to write a story on suspicions. The media, which should serve as the watchdog to monitor irregularities or poor budget management of government authorities on behalf of the people, is now faced to write articles just by jotting down the “filtered voice” of the government without being gagged.

Reasons for Consolidating Offices for News Transmission-

Government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, have shut down their offices for news transmission or reporters` working rooms, and have been pressing reporters to move out to integrated briefing rooms. In order to do that, the government has made a provision in the directive, which mandates the chief of the Government Information Agency to establish joint briefing centers in government complexes.

However, currently there are only three integrated briefing rooms in the country; one in Seoul, Gwacheon, and Daejeon, respectively. Moreover, it is almost impossible for reporters to gather sufficient news to write an in-depth report about problems in ministries while staying in one of those rooms. In addition, it is extremely difficulty for reporters to transmit such articles before the deadline.

Once the integrated briefing rooms become operational, the government will hire 14 new security guards to prevent reporters from entering government offices, clearly illustrating the government’s intention to confine reporters in a controlled area to block them from meeting government officials.

Reporters will also be banned from stationing in government offices, including the Central Government Complex and ministries, which handle tasks directly related to the livelihood of the people, such as the National Tax Service, the Korea Food and Drug Administration, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, and the Ministry of Planning and Budget.

Reporters are strongly criticizing the government’s new measure with one voice, saying, “This is an authoritarian and bureaucratic way of thinking that attempts to reject the natural duty of public officials who should be under public scrutiny.”

Experts are also concerned that the measure will threaten the media`s watchdog role to monitor close-door deals and human right violations.

Countless corruption scandals, such as the torture and death of Park Jong-cheol in 1987, and problems in government policies have become known to the public because reporters stayed in government offices, including various ministries and prosecution and police offices, from early in the morning till late at night in order to find the truth.

Government’s Direct Control on Media-

Although the government has been restricting the media’s access to news sources, it has been making significant effort to maximize its promotion with the help of the KTV, the state-controlled broadcaster that exclusively covers government policies. The government passed a bill last week that stipulates a 10 percent increase in staff in the Government Information Agency, including KTV. Experts believe it’s the government’s attempt to increase the influence of state-run reports and dominate the entire news-making process; “creation of information -> distribution -> reflection on public opinion.

“The government must not unilaterally push a press reform. The government has the responsibility to expand freedom of press and, if a reform is required, it must listen to the public, the media and experts first,” said Kang Hyeong-cheol, professor of media information at the Sookmyung Women’s University.

■ “Advanced Media Support System” Binds Journalists’ Hands and Feet

▼“President Roh’s Philosophy of Press is Autocratic”▼

In January 2007, while superintending the state council meeting, President Roh Moo-hyun complained, “Some journalists are hovering around the press room and are in collusion.”

He was criticizing the press for using the terms “subsidy for birth-giving costs” and “suspected as being for the presidential election” to describe the “Strategy for Investment on Health for Complying with Vision 2030” which had just been announced by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Though President Roh expressed his regret to the press, he already well displayed his distorted view of the press.

This triggered the wide spread of criticism in the press circle that the president’s philosophy of the press, which not only betrays his ignorance about the fact-finding and reporting courses of the press but also is distorted, is breeding an incorrect and unrealistic recognition.

President Roh has also spoken venomously against the press, describing it as “an ill product that frequently hurts the people like a weapon.” There is more of hatred against the press than of healthy checking and balancing.

From the days before his presidential election, Roh attacked the press saying that “even a war declaration against the press shouldn’t be avoided.” The recent movements by a number of core executives in the Korean Overseas Information Service and the Presidential Office of Public Relations, who are pushing for the so-called “Advanced Media Support System,” limiting the press activities indifferent to the concerned voices within the government, is not irrelevant from President Roh’s philosophy of the press.

“President Roh has not overcome the victimized feeling that he was attacked by major press agencies during the presidential election period in 2002, which remains with him like an obsession,” explained professor Sohn Tae-gyu of Communication & Media Studies Department at Dankook University. “It seems [the president] is possessed by an autocrat’s philosophy of the press, which regards it merely as a tool to spread the view of the ruler.”