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[Editorial] Ridiculous Ruling

Posted January. 21, 2010 07:54,   


A court yesterday cleared staff members of the MBC investigative news program “PD Notebook” of distorting U.S. beef safety. Anyone with common sense must reject the ruling, however. Judge Moon Seong-kwan of the Seoul Central District Court acquitted them on the charge of defaming public officials including former Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Chung Woon-chun, saying, "Though part of the program was exaggerated, the gist was in line with facts. So it cannot be seen as distortion.”

In the first and second trials of the staff, however, a civil court found that the program did fudge facts. The civil court said the program distorted information when it said “Downer cows are likely to be infected with mad cow disease” and “The possibility of Koreans being infected with human mad cow disease is 94 percent,” and ordered MBC to air a correction.

A criminal court can focus more on a crime’s motive, but there should be nothing different between the opinions of civil and criminal courts over judgment of fact. The distorted report by PD Notebook aired April 29, 2008, opposes the finding of the World Organization for Animal Health over U.S. beef safety. It is perplexing that a judge from a lower criminal court ignored the civil court’s ruling.

On the program’s staff members role in plunging the country into mass confusion, Moon said, “They made the program based on a wealth of evidence, including the opinions of experts at home and abroad.” The judge did not question their mistakes, however, including the program’s erroneous labeling of a downer cow having mad cow disease in a video clip created by an animal rights advocacy group to raise public awareness of animal abuse. He also ignored their failure to include in the report the opinions of authoritative organizations and experts in mad cow disease.

The Seoul High Court ruled that the distorted report undermined the public’s trust in and reputation of the Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry. To decide whether an act is punishable, a court must prove that it was conducted with “real malice.” Moon’s conclusion is unconvincing, however, since he said the report cannot be seen as a distortion and that the ministry’s reputation and trust were not tainted.

Public confusion has ensued amid a spate of court rulings that defy common sense. In an unprecedented move Monday, the Korean Bar Association criticized the acquittal of Kang Ki-kap, leader of the progressive Democratic Labor Party, of obstruction of government duties. The court ruling said, “The logic applied to court rulings should be consistent with laws and common sense.” To this, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon said, “I will protect the independence of the judiciary.” This could be interpreted that such criticism by the association undermines the court’s independence. Nobody believes, however, that the Korean judiciary will be affected by such criticism. Illogical rulings that contradict common sense are more dangerous than a dictatorship. The rule of law will be upheld only when the judiciary makes sound judgments.