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<3> Concealing the Truth and Changing Words

Posted December. 17, 2007 18:19,   


“Vertebrae found in U.S. beef” → “Not confirmed” → “Confirmed”

(The Roh administration and the Korean Government Information Agency unanimously say that they do not understand why the press is infuriated with the "modernization measures of press coverage" which they insist will enrich press coverage and provide accurate information. Once these measures take effect, they are likely to deprive reporters of opportunities to interview public servants. Many in the press have voiced concerns that the government will begin to conceal the facts, making it harder for reporters to disclose the truth. It is all the more worrisome given the administration’s current tendency to evade from the truth with or without the measures in place.)

President Roh and the government have constantly denied any possibility of holding a second inter-Korean summit until July this year. When former unification minister Lee Jong-seok confided in July that the government has been pushing for an inter-Korean summit since August 2006, Cheong Wa Dae denied it yet again. However, talks were already in progress. President Roh did not change his stance even when the media reported that one of his top aides, Ahn Hee-jeong, had a clandestine contact with North Koreans in November in order to realize a summit. The government finally spilled the beans when the media revealed this in March.

In a National Assembly defense committee held immediately after the North Korean nuclear test last October, President Kim Chung-bae of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses said, “North Korea seems to have enough plutonium to produce five to six nuclear weapons.” Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, who had also attended the meeting, brushed aside Kim’s comments, saying they were not in line with the ministry’s official view. However, in another meeting summoned by the minister the day after the nuclear test, the ministry revealed that it has reached an internal consensus on the total amount of plutonium held by the North—as much as 50 kg, enough for six to seven nuclear weapons.

In July, Dong-A reported that although the price cap on apartment subscription begins in September, there is almost no supply to be built on private sites subject to the price cap. In response, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation denied the report, claiming that 20 construction companies are planning to build 112,000 apartments by the year’s end. However, the ministry included the supply on public sites that should not be included in the statistics.

Although the Ministry of Planning and Budget originally reported that it needed approximately 1,100 trillion won for “Vision 2030,” the amount was recorded as 1,600 trillion won in the government daily briefing. When the paper pointed out the discrepancy in the figures, the Government Information Agency removed the information from the briefing. The ministry continually blamed the agency for the inaccuracy.

When the administration and financial authorities decided to impose restrictions on housing mortgage loans, they argued that the measure will curb the rising housing prices. However, a report on “Risk monitoring in the housing financial market” submitted by Korea Development Institute at the request of the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) told a different story; more people apply for housing mortgage loans when housing prices rise. When the paper reported such correlation this January, the FSS claimed that this was not its official position on the issue and did not elaborate any further.

In July, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs argued in a National Assembly committee, “The number of public servants in Korea is still relatively lower than in advanced nations.” However, many administration experts point out that comparison in a lump sum is out of logic since other nations constantly hire temporary public servants with contracts lasting between several months to years. There is a high chance that the government has included all the contract workers in their comparison statistics.

The ministry also announced that the nation experiences a wide gap in terms of land ownership since only 28.7 percent of the population owns land as of July 2005. However, the calculation was all wrong – the total amount of land should be divided by the number of households, not by the total population. With the correct calculation, the figure rises to 57.4 percent.

In April, the Korea National Statistical Office announced that the unemployment rate in the first quarter of the year reached 3.6 percent, a 0.3 percent decline from the same period last year. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between these figures and the real unemployment rate as the de facto “non-working” population and people who enjoy just about the same status as the unemployed youth are included in economically non-active population.

On July 29, it was reported that vertebrae were found in imported U.S. beef. Cow vertebrae are classified as Specified Risk Material (SRM) that could potentially cause mad cow disease. When reporters arrived at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry at the news, ministry officials repeatedly said that they could not confirm anything and some even responded with, “I have never heard of it” or “This is completely out of the blue.” The reporters were finally clarified on the matter the next day in the ministry’s briefing that confirmed the discovery of SRM.

The Ministry of Finance and Economy pledged to lend some 20 million won to small business owners at a low interest rate to revive their businesses when it announced a comprehensive plan for credit defaulters in March 2005. What no one knew was that the ministry had summoned retail banking directors in five major commercial banks five days prior to the announcement and forced them to support the scheme. Furthermore, the ministry also got in touch with their executives to nail down their support.

In the same year, the ministry also announced that it would present measures to reform the tax system in the beginning of 2006. When the paper reported that the ministry was pushing for a tax raise, citing the government’s mid and long term tax reform report in February 2006, the ministry delayed the announcement of its grand plans ever since.

When Dong-A requested an unemployment insurance database to the Ministry of Labor to analyze the movement of college-graduate employers by company size, it received an outrageous response: “We only share our database with certain newspapers.”

The Ministry of Construction and Transportation announced in June that the ministry received 63.6 out of 100 in a survey of 700 citizens and 53 experts on how satisfied they were with the ministry’s policies. However, it did not release the responses on the government’s real estate polices, administrative capital transfer, and corporate city projects.

In the past, many governments and leaders found themselves in political crises or had their reputation tainted when they tried to gloss over the facts to the people and the press.

The police tried to conceal and manipulate the truth about the death of a Seoul National University student protester Park Jong-cheol in January 1987. Concealing the fact that he was tortured to death, the best explanation the police came up with was, “When we slammed the table, he just gasped and died.” However, when Dong-A revealed exclusively that top officials were involved in concealing the facts, former President Jeon Du-hwan’s power began to decline.

In September 2002, lawmaker Eom Ho-seong of the opposition Grand National Party disclosed in a national affairs audit in the National Assembly that the administration pumped vast sums of money into the North in return for the North Korean leader to participate in the 2000 inter-Korean summit. Not surprisingly, the official response of Cheong Wa Dae was, “The allegation is absurd.” However the following year, the nation soon found out that the government did send $500 million to the North in return for the summit. Park Ji-won, former presidential chief of staff, Lim Dong-won, former special adviser on diplomacy, security and unification, and six others were indicted. They were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for being involved in the case.

[Full Text of Statement by Korean Association of Newspapers]

The government, notwithstanding the unanimous objection by the press, the political, and the civil organizations, is attempting to suffocate the press by enforcing the measure to blockade the press, named “Advanced Media Support System.”

We identify such press-blocking measure, one that did not exist even during the Yushin regime or the Fifth Republic years, as an anti-democratic oppression on the press, and cannot but express anger that the current government, calling itself a participatory government, proceeds with such measure.

The array of blockade measures, such as closing down the briefing rooms in each ministry, the president of the Korean Overseas Information Service tying the ankles of journalists by issuing entrance passes, and prohibiting face-to-face interviews with government employees, can only be interpreted as the intention to hide the national affairs completely behind the curtain.

If the government enforces such press blocking measures when the journalists are asked to stay in the site of the event day and night to cover the issues of sensitive concern to the people such as the South-North Korean summit, the kidnapping crisis in Afghanistan, and the presidential election, in the end it will be confronted with resistance by the people.

The government has to face the fact that the people have the right to know not only the final form of the policies but also, in cases of major issues, the course taken to produce the policy transparently, and the reality that the democratized nations around the world are improving the transparency of government policies toward the press.

We urge the government to wait no longer to recover its reason and immediately stop nailing the door to the briefing rooms of each ministry by withdrawing the press-blocking measure that undermines the people’s right to know, and additionally urge the government to strictly call to account those policy parties who drafted such an anachronistic measure that runs counter to democracy.

August 24, 2007, Korean Association of Newspapers