Just the Facts
I’d like to thank Jennifer Veale for the time and energy she invested in the article about the South Korean online newspaper OhmyNews ("Seoul Searching," January/February 2007). However, I found some erroneous descriptions about our news operation in the story that I would like to correct. Veale wrote that OhmyNews "began posting up-to-the-minute reports about ...
I’d like to thank Jennifer Veale for the time and energy she invested in the article about the South Korean online newspaper OhmyNews ("Seoul Searching," January/February 2007). However, I found some erroneous descriptions about our news operation in the story that I would like to correct.
Veale wrote that OhmyNews "began posting up-to-the-minute reports about how presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun was lagging in the polls" on Election Day in 2002. However, no news outlet in Korea is allowed to publish results of election polls or exit polls for the 10 days prior to the election. If OhmyNews had posted such results, someone could have been jailed or fined. We did report details about election developments, but no poll results were published on Election Day.
Veale also reported that "[s]ome reports posted to OhmyNews suggested [that two American soldiers who ran over two Korean schoolgirls with a tank north of Seoul] had intentionally killed the children, even though that was not the case." We did cover the accident extensively. But we never suggested the GIs intentionally killed the girls. Our effort centered on the cause of the tragedy and, according to our investigative report, it was an accident waiting to happen. Despite repeated warnings and protests by local residents prior to the accident that the road in question was too narrow for military tanks, the U.S. Army continued with its exercises. OhmyNews concluded that this arrogance was the real cause of the accident.
Veale also took issue with aspects of our funding, writing that "OhmyNews raised a few eyebrows this summer when it agreed to take a government grant of $10,000 from a fund designed to keep ailing newspapers and other media afloat." The consensus among South Koreans is that the news media serve the public interest. That is why media are legally entitled to request and receive government grants. If receiving a government grant is evidence of a collusive relationship, then no Korean news outlet is free from such criticism.
Despite the concerns Veale raises in the story, just four cases involving articles written by OhmyNews‘s citizen reporters have been legally challenged during the past seven years. We have lost none. Given that we publish hundreds of stories each day, I’d say that is a rather impressive performance.
-Jean K. Min
Seoul, South Korea
Jennifer Veale replies:
In reporting the article about OhmyNews, I came across incendiary headlines on the site, including the Aug. 5, 2002, Korean-language headline, "School Girl Incident Was Deliberate." As I noted in the piece, such a headline could lead readers to believe the two U.S. soldiers had intentionally killed the two Korean schoolgirls. With regard to posting election updates, other media have reported that OhmyNews citizen journalists posted pieces on Election Day in 2002 informing readers that Roh was trailing. I also did not take issue with the fact that OhmyNews applied for and accepted taxpayer money to help its operations. I quoted a Korean media expert who said that the handout would compromise the online newspaper’s independence in the future. Critics did not expect that from a self-described progressive news organization.