Korea: Staffers indicted for controversial mad cow episode

Source of Article:  http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2906341

MBC’s ‘PD Diary’ accused of letting political bias willfully distort facts

June 19, 2009

Prosecutors indicted five MBC production staffers without detention on charges of defaming government officials and obstructing the business of U.S. beef importers by broadcasting a controversial April 2008 “PD Diary” episode about mad cow disease.

Wrapping up a one-year investigation, prosecutors concluded that MBC staff members - four producers and a scriptwriter - deliberately created a biased report on the safety of U.S. beef and mad cow disease and thus defamed then Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun and Min Dong-seok, former deputy minister and chief negotiator on the U.S. beef import deal.

The announcement came a year after the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries filed a complaint with the Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office. Prosecutors said MBC workers distorted facts, deliberately mistranslated and exaggerated threats of mad cow disease in relation to U.S. beef.

“The suspects mistranslated some 30 scenes shown in the episode, omitted explanations for important facts about the scenes, and reported false information,” Jeong Byeong-du, a senior prosecutor, said in the press briefing. “The media’s critical comments about government policies are necessary, but they should be made based on facts. Distortion of facts cannot be protected by law.”

But PD Diary staff expressed anger over the prosecutor’s investigation saying it has challenged press freedom.

“This simply is a politically motivated investigation by prosecutors who receive orders from the government,” PD Diary producer Cho Neung-hee said.

In the key episode, PD Diary stated it was highly likely that an American woman named Aretha Vinson died of a human form of mad cow disease after eating U.S. beef. But prosecutors found neither Vinson’s family nor her doctor confirmed she died by the disease.

PD Diary stated that her doctor said she is suspected to have died from the disease. But her doctor told prosecutors that he simply explained to MBC the causes and symptoms of the human form of mad cow disease. In addition, the doctor refused to comment to MBC on the cause of death of Vinson, citing her privacy, prosecutors said. A recent investigation based on data provided by U.S. health officials revealed that Vinson died of a brain disease not associated with beef consumption.

Last year’s show fueled public anger and led tens of thousands of people to the streets to participate in candlelight vigils calling for the Korean government to renegotiate the U.S. beef deal.

Prosecutors yesterday disclosed e-mails that PD Diary scriptwriter Kim Eun-hee wrote. Prosecutors said they contained her strong opposition to the current government. Because she was deeply involved in creating the program, prosecutors said the e-mails are evidence that the report was not objective, but willfully intended to distort facts. In an e-mail written on April 18, 2008, Kim wrote “While I’ve been looking for an item for PD Diary, I was looking for ways to release my indignation over the outcome of the general election.”

In another e-mail written by Kim on June 7, 2008, she wrote “I get really into making a program one or two times a year... This year’s mad cow disease was one of them. I think that was because anger over Lee Myung-bak was at a peak at that time after the general election. Because I’m still very interested in ‘the fate of Lee,’ I’ve spent a lot of time watching the candlelight vigils and looking at [the online discussion forum] Agora on Daum.”

Kim criticized the prosecution for disclosing her e-mails, saying it has infringed on her right to privacy. “I will file a lawsuit against prosecutors and I will file a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission as well. I will also take legal action against media that run my e-mail,” Kim yesterday was quoted by Media Today. “Prosecutors could have submitted those e-mails as reference to the court,” said Kim Hyeong-rae, a lawyer representing PD Diary staff.

By Lee Chul-jae, Kim Mi-ju


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