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Sankei Shimbun’s defamation of Korea goes too far

Posted August. 11, 2014 07:17,   


Prosecutors reportedly sent summons to Tatsuya Kato, the Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun daily who had been filed suit against for defaming president Park Geun-hye, ordering him to appear at prosecution on Tuesday. In an online story entitled “President Park Geun-hye went missing on the day of Sewol’s sinking… who was she meeting?” published on Sunday last week, the Sankei Shimbun said that Park was meeting with a man in secrecy at the time of the ferry’s tragic sinking, and that the man was Jeong Yoon-hoi, Park’s former aide who recently divorced.

The Japanese daily claimed, “The article was written primarily based on publicized information from discussions at the National Assembly and newspaper reports, to introduce such information,” but reading the article, one can find that the primary source in this article is bulletins circulating in the securities market. The article introduces in details what Park’s Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon testified at the National Assembly on President Park’s whereabouts on the day of the accident, but it amplified suspicion by cleverly combining information from a column printed in the Chosun Ilbo and a bulletin in the securities market.

Sankei’s publishing of the report without even bothering to check facts over information in the securities market bulletin illustrates inferior editorial quality of the newspaper. A foreign correspondent sometimes files a story by quoting local news reports due to limited news gathering capacity in the country concerned. Even doing this, the correspondent does so to the extent that the source of local reports can be verified. The Chosun Ilbo’s op-ed piece, which the Japanese daily quoted, was also addressing rumors. The fact that an op-ed dealing with rumors cannot constitute source of news stories is kind of common sense to journalists.

The Sankei Shimbun is infamous for its ultra-rightist, anti-Korean practice and orientation. In March, the daily disparaged President Park’s diplomatic policy by labeling it "diplomacy of snitching,” and said, “Diplomacy of snitching is ethnical habit.” The daily wrote that article using a "newspaper jargon" by directly quoting former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s sexually discriminatory remarks, “It sounds like a female student’s snitching.” The latest news report in question is also disparaging of woman by exploiting the fact that President Park is a single woman. Sankei is earning criticism even within Japan for reports disparaging Korea incompatibly with common sense, but given that even the entire Korean people feel sense of disdain, the newspaper has apparently gone way too far.

The Korean Constitution guarantees freedom of press and speech, but reckless freedom defaming other people’s dignity and integrity cannot be tolerated. Judging Sankei’s reports as defamation of the head of state, the Korean presidential office is reportedly preparing strong response, including criminal and civil lawsuits. While the government should leave prosecutorial investigation on prosecutors, it is undesirable for the presidential office to interfere, because it could be construed as infringement of freedom of press. However, Korea cannot afford to present the same treatment to the low-grade newspaper Sankei as that accorded to other prestigious media outlets in Japan. The Korean government should also seek appropriate measures including restriction of access for newsgathering.