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Police probe calls related to alleged bugging of DP meeting

Police said Friday they are currently investigating telephone calls made between a reporter and politician related to the alleged bugging of a Democratic Party meeting.

“We are currently looking into telephone calls made by the reporter, politician and his aides to verify whether they shared information over the alleged bugging,” an officer at the Yeongdeungpo Police Station in Seoul said Friday.

Police are also considering the option of banning the suspected reporter and politician from leaving the country should they make deliberate attempts to avoid the probe, the official said, asking not to be named as investigations continue.

The potentially-explosive scandal was disclosed to the public on June 26 when the main opposition Democratic Party filed a complaint with the police, claiming a KBS reporter had bugged a meeting held to discuss strategies over the state-run broadcaster’s controversial plan to raise TV subscription fees.

The reporter, 33, known only by the family name Jang, denies the allegations.

Members of the left-leaning party raised the eavesdropping allegations after Rep. Han Sun-kyo of the ruling Grand National Party cited the content of the secretive meeting during a June 24 parliamentary session, held just a day after the meeting. The DP believes the suspected reporter shared the contents with the ruling party lawmaker and filed a separate complaint against Han with the prosecution on July 1, alleging he contravened the law protecting the secrecy of communications.

Opening a probe earlier this month, the police raided Jang’s house and confiscated his laptop, mobile phone and other items as evidence, but they were later found to be of no use as they were new items bought after June 29. Jang claims he lost the devices and had to have them replaced.

As the issue of raising the subscription fee for those watching the state-run broadcaster had long been a source of political and social disputes, opposition parties and civic groups suspect KBS conducted the bugging to gain an upper-hand in the ongoing discussions.

Denying all allegations, however, KBS claims the investigations are an infringement of press freedom. The major broadcaster also insists that a “third person” associated with the DP helped it obtain what was discussed at the meeting, stressing it cannot indentify the source for protection reasons. KBS also plans to take legal action against the opposition party.

Households have been paying 2,500 won ($2) as a monthly TV license fee to KBS since 1981. While advocates of KBS say the public broadcaster will be able to better serve public interests with financial stability, opposition parties and left-leaning civic groups say the public shouldn’t have to pay anymore until KBS first proves its political neutrality and will to improve the quality of programs.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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