The Supreme Court on Friday cleared the directors of nationwide broadcaster MBC’s investigative program, “PD Notebook,” of charges that they had distorted some content regarding mad cow disease in the U.S.
The court upheld the Seoul High Court’s decision ruling them not guilty of defaming former Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Chung Woon-chun, through the program.
The producers on April 29, 2008 suggested in its program that people who consume U.S. beef could contract the human form of “mad cow disease” and showed a video clip of “downer” cows at U.S. farms. They also said that the Korean government was either ignorant of this or had intentionally turned a blind eye to it to proceed with the import resumption.
The news inspired nearly 2 million people to rally against the Lee Myung-bak administration’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports, and caused Lee’s approval rating to plummet.
A separate full panel of the Supreme Court on the same day remanded the Seoul High Court’s order that the program makers air apologetic and correctional content.
Through investigation, which involved the arrest of five directors, a raid into the office and seizure of the original films, the prosecutors claimed that several parts of the interview scenes were inaccurately translated, which could have misled the audience. MBC swiftly offered an apology.
A local court ordered the directors to air that “downer cows” do not necessary have bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
It also ruled that the contents alleging that Koreans are more susceptible to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (human mad cow disease) and that the government has authorized the imports of five especially risky materials in regards to the CJD are false. A high court also ruled that MBC must air the government messages.
The court’s Friday rulings in favor of the PD Notebook could be referred as the judiciary’s guaranteeing the rights to express, observers said.
The prosecution’s rows of “excessive investigation” into the program ignited fierce disputes over the journalistic freedom and whether the government could interfere even if it contains errors.
In 2010, a local court rejected a collective lawsuit by nearly 2,500 people against the program for destabilizing the country through the “distorted reports.”
The Seoul Southern District Court said that the information may have been partially inaccurate, but its producers could not be responsible for the protests driven by the program.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org