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SEWOL DISASTER: Media’s role in tragedy

Publication Date : 21-04-2014

 

We are still holding onto a sliver of hope that, miraculously, survivors will be found even though more than 100 hours have passed since the Sewol capsized in the waters off Jindo Island Wednesday morning.

But these hopes are being brutally dashed not only by the excruciatingly slow rescue process, but by the animals of our society who see this as a money-making opportunity - hence the smishing and disrespectful postings regarding the Sewol passengers.

It is up to the government, with the aid of the media, to hunt down these criminals and issue the necessary penalties.

Another critical line of duty the press has been enlisted with is to ensure its coverage does not in any way cause unnecessary grief or distress for the victims.

While the media appeared to be walking on eggshells to avoid aggravating the victims’ families at Paengmok Port, one too many of the reports turned out to be false or unconfirmed.

The total number of people aboard the ship and those who were rescued, for instance, changed several times, and each time, the media blamed the government for inaccuracies.

But we are well aware we can’t claim immunity because we should have refrained from releasing anything at all had discrepancies been suspected - no matter how heated the competition was getting to cover the incident.

The false testimony from a civilian diver whose controversial remarks - about why the government dragged its feet on rescue plans - was another good example of exactly why the media should be more careful.

Further, the Defence Ministry is seeking an investigation against those claiming that the ferry collided with a submarine, and those who accused North Korea of having masterminded the sinking.

Nobody doubts that the government and the top military brass were far from efficient, and that those responsible must pay the consequences. However, false information will only makes things worse.

Even regarding the “villains” - namely the Sewol captain, his sidekicks and the rest of the crew who decided their own lives outweighed the passengers’ - the reports must strain for accuracy.

Conscious of the criticism and chaos caused by the media, the Journalists Association of Korea on Sunday released a set of guidelines for journalists to follow.

They ask the press to refrain from reporting unauthorised facts, to know better than to bother the waiting families and to exercise the utmost courtesy and prudence when communicating with them.

If unverified information happens to slip, the members of the press and their outlets must promptly acknowledge and address the error.

Last but not least, it is up to us to offer a message of hope and sympathy to the victims, the association said.

What this means is that the public wants some assurance.

Assurance that even in the midst of such rage and despair, there is still reason for us to hope and dream of a better tomorrow.

Assurance that in the end, those - including the top brass who let their sense of duty be overwhelmed by bureaucracy and the fear of failure - who played a part in extinguishing the lives of so many innocent people will eventually pay the price.

It has been a long week, but let’s not give up our last bit of hope just yet.

After all, miracles do happen.

 

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