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Media Watchdog Delivers Penalty to MBC

Posted July. 18, 2008 08:07,   


The Korea Communications Standards Commission meted out Thursday a heavy penalty to Munhwa Broadcasting Corp.’s investigative TV magazine “PD Notebook.” In its plenary meeting, the media watchdog demanded that MBC “apologize to the audience” over the two reports in regard to U.S. beef and mad cow disease, each aired on April 29 and May 13.

The ruling of “apology to the audience” constitutes stern disciplinary punishment, and those broadcasters given the punishment are subject to a four-point demerit mark at the broadcasting right renewal assessment that comes around every three years. The Korea Communications Standards Commission’s ruling is similar to a court ruling, so the ruling is expected to have a huge impact on the future court ruling and prosecutorial investigations. The following is an excerpt from the commission’s ruling.

○ Mistranslation led to misunderstanding

The Korea Communications Standards Commission determined that PD Notebook’s mistranslation, which led to erroneous information, is in violation of Articles 9 and 14 of Communications Standards that stipulate fairness and objectivity. Mistranslation charges have centered on the U.S. Humane Society’s downer cow clip and the cause of Aretha Vinson’s death.

The commission presented the following as examples of mistranslation: “Dairy cows” to “these cows”; “could possible have been infected with” to “was infected”; “it’s suspected that she was infected with” to “she was infected with; the possibility of CJD” to “the possibility of vCJD (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal human neurodegenerative condition)”; “If she contracted vCJD” to “How did anyone not know she contracted vCJD”; and “When we asked workers who are alleged to be involved in animal abuse” to “When we asked a manager on the ground about why (you slaughtered cows suspected of contracting mad cow disease).

Park Myeong-jin, head of the commission, asked MBC officials during the hearing, “Though the program admitted to mistranslations, I’d like to take issue of them in detail because the mistakes were made in very sensitive points. U.S. cows were turned into cows infected with mad cow disease and the cause of Vinson’s death was mistranslated to be mad cow disease. What do you think would have unfolded if those mistranslations were corrected?”

○ Unclear contents turned into facts

Regarding the program’s violation of the principle of “objectivity,” the commission pointed out the remarks of producer Song Il-jun, who hosts the program in question. He stated his opinions on unclear contents in an assertive tone, saying “The aforementioned cow infected with mad cow disease” and “It’s terrifying to see it before being slaughtered.” Those conclusive remarks misled the audience, said the commission.

The commission also ruled that the program infringed the objectivity standard by reporting that “Koreans’ vulnerability to mad cow disease is 94 percent” based on the indefinite analysis of protein variations called prions.

○ Selective interviews

The second clause of Article 9 of Communications Standards states that “When broadcasters handle issues that are socially controversial and involve conflicting interests, they must keep fairness and balance, and reflect all opinions of related parties in a balanced manner.”

The commission found that PD Notebook conducted one-sided interviews with the U.S. Consumer Union and Humane Society though there were figures and groups who have differing ideas on the U.S. slaughtering system, the conditions of slaughterhouses, imports of Canadian cattle and animal feed regulation policies.

The program interviewed only one government official who participated in the U.S. beef import deal, while giving extensive coverage to opinions of civic groups and experts who were in opposition to the deal. When dealing with the issue of cattle’s age, the program also heard from certain groups. All this was cited by the commission as violating the fairness standard.

○ Belated correction for misreport

When the program provided Tuesday explanations over the controversy on air, it admitted to misreport on the following points: four sets of mistranslations; show host’s slip of the tongue when he indicated a “downer cow” as a “mad cow disease-contracted cow”; and the possibility of Koreans being infected with BSE is 94 percent. The admission of the misdeed came 79 days after MBC broadcasted the program on April 29. The media watchdog ruled that MBC violated Article 17 of Communications Standards on misreport and corrections, though the program publicly admitted on May 13 some mistakes in its report.

Regarding this, the commission head told MBC, “Communications Standards states that “misreport shall be corrected without delay” for a reason. Media coverage is so powerful that the contents of the report spread instantly.” He asked, “Can you argue that you acted swiftly without delay in explaining part of the misreport two weeks after the broadcast, and corrections two months after that?”