Note: Liusu_qingcheng is a lawyer from the United Kingdom
A letter to the Korean Press
It’s been two weeks since sexual assault claims was brought against Mr. Park Yoochun, and during these two weeks, we saw a big show produced by the Korea Press on the stage.
1. What we see
First of all, is there any evidence that the charge and the subsequent charges against Park Yoochun are substantiated? No, not yet.
The police have so far taken no action against him and offered no evidence. The police are still on investigation.
What we see is that a number of women came forward with allegations against Mr. Park. Among all these accusations, someone withdrew the charge on the second day after her accusation went to public, someone did make allegations to the police but not willing to give evidence, someone made her allegation dated back over a number of years, still no evidence. Most of all, what we see is that the source of the information for the news is the complainant herself or her-selves, and when it comes to the accounts of what really happened of this shameful event, these women went directly to the press rather than to the police.
What we see is that, despite the fact that the complainants keep changing their stories, despite that their own credit is questionable, the press unanimously report all the stories that have been told, without even mentioning this is only one side of the story.
So what is this? This seems to suggest that, if any single individual in Korea wants to mislead or guide the Press/Media and thereafter the public to believe something, true or not, she or he can simply go to the press and tell the story of one side, because the public are willing to take the word of anyone who makes such accusations, especially if these charges are against a famous name. And the Press is willing to give the public a story without verifying of its factuality, simply feeding their curiosity and anxiety for gossip. Then the whole country will start pointing fingers and call him an asshole. Is this what you want?
2. The responsibility of the Press/Media
What is the responsibility of the Press?
Journalists should strive to uphold freedom of the press, and take public interest as the basis of their work. Journalists should uphold the principles of truth, objectivity and fairness.
We do not question your freedom of reporting. But the importance of a free press lies in that the report is not about “taking down Park Yoochun” neither is it a defense of him. It is about trying to set the record straight.
“IV. News and Commentary
We the journalists pledge ourselves that we will report news to its full extent truthfully, objectively, and in a fair manner. We further pledge ourselves that we will adhere to the truthful information and fairness in presenting analysis, commentary, and opinions, and that by taking the diverse opinions in society into account we will contribute to fostering a healthy public opinion.”
This is Article IV in the Preamble of the Standards of Practice under the Code of Press Ethics, provided by the Korean Newspaper and Broadcasting Editors Association and the Journalists Association of Korea (See eg http://www.mediawise.org.uk/south-korea-2/).
In the Section III of the standards, it provides Guidelines for News Reporting, to name just a few:
“News reports, including news analysis, should be presented with all the factual information confirmed and obtained from clearly identified news sources. Journalists are obligated to seek truthful information affirmatively in order to serve the cause of social justice and public interest.
1. (Distinction between News and Opinion) In news reports, journalists should differentiate facts from opinions. Further, they should not select or write news based on their self-serving personal interests or biases.
2. (Specifying Unconfirmed information) Journalists, in rare cases where they have to use unconfirmed information or unidentified news sources, should make it clear in their reports that they are using such information.
5. (Verifying Information from Pecuniary Interests) In principle, the information provided by news sources should be verified of its factuality before being presented as news. Journalists, in particular, should guard against public relations information efforts of vested commercial interest.”
Did the press stick to the standard?
When you reported only one side of the story making one person look like a pervert, without specifying that it is unconfirmed information, you did not.
When you started mixing your biased comments with the news, adding unfounded guesses with sarcasm, without the distinction between news and opinion, you did not.
When you went to the complainant’s friend and so-called relevant person and dug the so-called “inside story” without verifying its factuality before presented it as news, you did not.
This is very unfortunate, because in a single sexual assault, victims are victims, and should be believed as they should be, unless further evidence and investigation reveals that it did not happen. It is the same case with the accused person as well, because there were always rumourmongers who spread sensational news for purpose. While the mass media oversteps their boundaries by consistently taking sides in attracting public attention with reckless disregard for the truth, the public listen to the media all the time.
And you reported the same assumption and conjecture day and night, repeated it endlessly, with no verification, as if this were the most crucial and important thing of the whole country that is worth reporting.
Misleading the public and making him the blame for your suffer is in no way to make your world a better place.
The press should be a messenger, not a drama maker.
No one doubts or denies that the press should report the news freely and independently, we only request that you report the news objectively and truthfully!
3. If yes, if no.
As the investigation goes on, the truth beneath the surface started to show itself. The police began to believe that there was an organised gang crime behind the story. That’s where it gets complicated, and that’s why it may take longer for the truth to be revealed. Although we don’t understand why the accused person cannot get access to the information by whom he was accused, we won’t jump to the conclusion. We will keep waiting for the completion of the investigation.
We accepted that public figures and bodies should tolerate more criticism than ordinary people, not less. We also believe that the accounts of those who were supposed to give evidence against Mr Park should be subjected to careful scrutiny in the course of the extensive police investigation.
If what was charged against Mr. Park is true, that is, if the answer is yes, he will be punished by the law. The press and people should criticize him, we will too, seriously, no doubt.
But what if, the answer is No? It is a material fact that, in every single case, there is always 50% of possibility that, the answer is “No”.
So what if NO?
How will the Korea media and the general public react? Unfounded sex crime allegations have a devastating effect on the image, reputation, and often career, of the accused, who will pay the price of the loss? Has any of you appreciated the gravity of the situation, and how easy a simple rumor can cast a shadow over one person’s life.
It will provide insight into how easy it is to make a claim, and how difficult it can be to disprove it.
It will also provide insight into how easy it is to make a rushed judgement of one’s personality, because this is not your life, not your name, not your dignity, not your career; but at least, show some respect, for his fundamental right. A person, famous or not, deserves a fair judgement based on factual charge.
Article 21 (4) of the Korean Constitution provides:
(See eg https://www.humanrights.go.kr/english/information/legalMaterials01.jsp)
“Neither speech nor the press shall violate the honor or rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics. Should speech or the press violate the honor or rights of other persons, claims may be made for the damage resulting therefrom.”
The answer is simple and clear:
Do not judge a person before the truth is revealed.
Do not convict a person before the investigation result is disclosed.
Let this be our last words.
Micky Baidu Bar’s Chinese translation : HERE