Sun, May 31, 2009 - Page 8 News List

What the Roh case can teach us

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

In December last year, the Korean Central News Agency reported that Media Action, a grouping of 48 civic and public organizations, including the south Korean Press Trade Union, denounced moves by the GNP — which came to power on Dec. 19, 2007, replacing Roh — to put media under its control. The group accused the party of seeking to revise media laws in ways that risked undermining impartiality and favored conservative media such as the Chosun Ilbo.

A clear link between the GNP’s control of the media, hardline stance on inter-Korean dialogue and the level of publicity surrounding the Roh case can be established. It is therefore not impossible that through the media and the judiciary, the GNP sought to discredit Roh’s policies vis-à-vis North Korea by focusing on allegations of corruption against him. Soon after his death, some South Koreans were already starting to ask if the media and the judiciary might not have come down “too hard” on Roh — something that would equally apply to the Chen case in Taiwan, where a large sector of the media falls under direct or indirect control of the KMT, and where the government has been accused of meddling in the judiciary.

It is interesting to note, too, that much like the KMT, the GNP has its roots in a military dictatorship, in this case that of Park Chung-hee in 1963, when it was known as the Democratic Republican Party. Such political dowry may have played a role — an old reflex, perhaps — in the KMT and the GNP’s use of mass propaganda campaigns to discredit not just a political opponent, but also an ideology (Taiwanese independence; liberal policies regarding North Korea).

The similarities in the Chen and Roh cases are more than superficial and may expose deep undercurrents in how young democracies with an authoritarian past address corruption. In both instances, the storm that has accompanied the probes against former officials point to a politicization of the process and the dangers inherent in government control of the media.

J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.

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