The prosecution indicted five employees at one of the country’s largest broadcasters Thursday on charges of defaming government officials with a controversial report critical of the administration’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports last year.
Four producers and a script writer at MBC were indicted without physical detention a year after Seoul’s agriculture ministry filed a complaint with the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office accusing them of airing a biased report on the safety of U.S. beef, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The creators of the much-disputed episode of “PD Notebook,” aired April 29 last year, defamed then-Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun and Min Dong-seok, former negotiator on U.S. beef imports, by distorting facts, deliberately mistranslating and exaggerating the threat of mad cow disease associated with U.S. beef, the prosecution said.
The Lee Myung-bak government faced public backlash following an agreement with Washington to lift almost all restrictions on U.S. beef, including the age of butchered cattle, just two months after its inauguration in February last year.
The report played a pivotal role in touching off weeks-long street protests, forcing the Lee administration to renegotiate detailed terms with Washington. President Lee, then facing his lowest approval ratings since taking office, publicly apologized twice over the controversy.
The government argues the local concerns over U.S. beef were largely fueled by the investigative news program, which suggested that those who consume the meat could contract the human form of the brain wasting illness and that South Koreans were more vulnerable to the disease than Americans.
“Such distortions and seemingly deliberate mistranslation led ignorant viewers into believing that they faced a large threat from mad cow disease,” prosecutors said. “As a result, the two government officials’ social reputations were severely damaged.”
Producers of “PD Notebook” issued a public apology in July last year, admitting they had mistranslated parts of an interview with an American purportedly diagnosed with the human form of mad cow disease. They, however, deny the prosecutors’ accusation that they “deliberately” exaggerated or distorted the facts.
Critics charge the clash between MBC and the authorities is part of the government’s overarching strategy to tame media outlets. MBC is considered to be the more generally left-leaning among Korea’s three top television networks.(Korea Times)