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Journalists’ regrets

Posted May. 23, 2014 05:27,   


The Sewol ferry disaster unveiled many embarrassing aspects of our society and one of them was the media. In the early stage of the disaster, one network was the first to send out a caption “All students rescued.” All channels aired the families of the missing who were sobbing. The classic examples of false reports were MBN’s interview with Hong Ga-hye who claimed that the coast guard was preventing private divers’ rescue efforts, and JTBC’s reporting urging for the use of the “Diving Bell.” Even a new term was coined: kiraegi, a combination of kija (journalists in Korean) and sureki (garbage in Korean).

Both speed and accuracy are important values in news reporting. In emergencies like a disaster, reporters have no time to check facts. The special circumstances of the ferry disaster and social networking sites affected the mass production of false reporting. Journalists could visit accident sites when Sampung Department Store collapsed or the Daegu Subway was on fire. But reporters could not access the site at all in this maritime disaster. Meanwhile, the passengers in the ferry could let others know about their last moments through social networking sites, and this highlighted false reporting.

Journalists seem to be blamed largely for being rude to survivors or the families of the dead or missing. A JTBC reporter asked to a rescued student, “Do you know your friend is dead?” and the news anchor made an apology for this. Media vehicles were blocking the passage between Paengmok harbor and the stadium in Jindo, which made it hard for the families to come and go. When the families cried, journalists took pictures and popped the flash. Their journalist instinct would have been understood if it had not been a disaster. In a disaster situation, however, it is a taboo. The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists says, “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.”

Preventing a disaster by detecting other “Sewols” in our society is the important role of the media. Journalists did not play their due role. On Thursday, 5,623 journalists regretted their reporting on the ferry disaster and declared that they would remind themselves of the cause of the media at an event hosted by the National Union of Mediaworkers. The misguided news reporting practices should also be corrected. However, sorting out qualified journalists and media outlets also has become an important issue in the media community.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)