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Military blasted for sleight of hand

Experts urge greater openness, cooperative approach to media

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Published : 2014-06-25 21:30
Updated : 2014-06-25 21:55

From the clumsy pursuit of a fugitive sergeant to a deceptive move to divert media attention, the military’s handling of last week’s shooting incident has damaged public trust, critics said Wednesday.

Above all, the use of a soldier posing as the captured sergeant as a decoy for throngs of reporters gathered at a hospital has triggered intense criticism. Media outlets upbraided the armed forces for deceiving them, their readers and viewers.

“Over the course of the operations, the military appeared to be focusing only on diverting public attention. It also seems to view the media as a hindrance rather than a companion with whom they can solve their problems,” said Kim Jong-dae, the chief editor of Defense 21 Plus, a monthly military magazine.
Medical staff move a soldier posing as the sergeant who was captured after a shooting spree last week to an emergency center at a hospital in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Monday. (Yonhap)

“It all comes down to communication. The military apparently monopolizes its issues and calls on people to follow them. It is a one-way (form of) communication that plants seeds of distrust. What is important is participation and cooperation, which should be the centerpiece of mutual trust.”

On Tuesday, media carried photos of the captured sergeant being transported to a hospital in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, two days after he killed five soldiers and wounded seven others in a shooting rampage.

But the next day, the Defense Ministry admitted that the man, who was on a stretcher with a blanket covering his entire body, was a different soldier.

The ministry explained that the medical staff requested that a decoy be prepared as the throngs of reporters might have hindered treatment. But it regretted owning up to using the decoy only after media reported on the deceptive measure.

Public confidence in the military had already been eroded by the bungled efforts to capture the sergeant.

The military raised its vigilance level two hours after the shooting, despite the sergeant carrying a rifle and dozens of bullets. The military explained that it did not necessarily have to raise its vigilance level immediately after a soldier runs away.

Despite the military’s announcement that it had set up a strong cordon to prevent the sergeant from traveling far, he moved 10 km from his unit within 18 hours of the shooting.

Observers said that the military should seek more transparency in its handling of internal issues and cooperation with the media to avoid causing unnecessary misunderstandings that could damage its public image.

“Of course, the military may think that the media could pose hurdles to its efforts to conduct important military operations, but the military could have dealt with the issue in a more sophisticated way,” said Park Won-gon, security professor at Handong Global University.

“Basically, they may think that they should not do anything that the media could find fault with. But they need to take a step further and move to more actively cooperate with the media (to build trust with them).”

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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