Malicious and Improper Media Conduct Is Undoubtedly Defamation
—Religious Criticism Reports Based on Low-Credibility Testimony Deserve Public Attention
By Lee Yoona
July 21, 2017
Criticism without subject limitation and bold measures against social pathology are the purposes of the media. Nowadays, it is not as difficult as it once was to collect material about regimes and certain groups and report on them, but no media outlets strive for it. Instead, they are constrained by certain guidelines, and professional ethics become more prominent.
Coverage on sensational issues, such as religion, is a good example. As far as human rights are concerned, the possibility increases that news reports may infringe the right to reputation as a result of abuse of the “public figure theory.” (Translator’s note: By law, public figures, confronted with defamation actions or invasion of privacy, cannot file a lawsuit for wrong harmful statements unless it can be proved that they were made with actual malice.)
The media openly apply to their reports a convenient but false logic that “ people and groups are public figures and groups.”
(hereafter referred to as the Church), which comes from China, is treated in many ways as Gentiles. Some media outlets claim that the Church comes from another country and always discusses human rights issues in China, so they are concerned that this may create diplomatic friction.
In addition, groups in South Korea reject the Church because it is a newborn foreign religion and has many things at odds with them.
Under such circumstances, it is very difficult for the Church to voice their opinions when negative media reports are made using offensive material that is difficult to confirm. Cases that are used to suppress the Church by the Chinese government, like “McDonald’s Murder,” “Leaving Home Event,” are widely publicized, causing increasing secondary damage to the Church.
Information and Testimony From China Have No Credibility
Degrading remarks on Chinese products can often be heard, like “made in China (untrustworthy).” In terms of writing a report, however, such an attitude is not discrimination, but a reasonable suspicion. It is really hard to confirm the reliability of the information and material from China.
In this context, using Chinese testimony and citing social news stories in China for the coverage of an issue about a particular religion, which is considered as a “foreign case,” can lead to one-sided reports that are inconsistent with the facts.
That is to say, it is possible that the Chinese Communist government unethically schemes against certain groups on purpose, or provides material making them out to be anti-social.
There is a need for in-depth discussion of the serious human rights issues in China. Ⓒ The Church of Almighty God
Look at a recent case. Last year, a television program, Informers, presented “A Story of a Wife Who Is Anxiously Looking for Her Husband,” which actually showed the process of a woman searching for her husband, A, who came to South Korea to avoid the religious persecution in China.
The main focus of the show was the statement of A’s wife, B, “There is no suppression of religion in any form in China. I came to find my husband because he has been deceived by the sweet words of the church and abandoned our family.”
The church here refers to the Church of Almighty God. The Church emphasizes that the coverage at that time is inconsistent with the facts, and that China’s religious oppression is still ongoing.
For example, Chinese religion-related news is basically composed of negative and partial reports, such as beating events among believers in various religious groups, and abandonment of the family due to immersion in the church.
The problem is that the media outlets rely solely on limited data, as seen in “according to the foreign media” or “according to the family members,” and thus are quite likely to make partial reports.
It is similar to certain fake news which currently prevails in the world. In particular, more attention needs to be paid to data verification when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of the Church, but the fact that the process is omitted is pointed out as a serious problem.
Until today, South Korean media have failed to make a completely objective examination of various controversies in the domestic religious world. So, with regard to China and its religions, it is even more necessary to be cautious. It is a well-known fact that the Chinese Communist Party has been persecuting religion since it came into power.
Although the Chinese Communist Party was expected to change its attitude with the arrival of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, it failed to do so. Until recently, the party has still created many negative issues, such as missionary expulsion. Sixty people, including South Korean missionaries, were known to have been deported from the autonomous prefecture of Yanbian in late January this year.
This is the reason why it is criticized to indiscriminately use the Chinese reports of religion-related incidents or to cite them without considering the hidden context (criticism about specific religions).
Universal Human Rights and the Efforts of Change Need to Be Evaluated
It is faulty to determine religious people or groups as public figures—the objects of social interest and criticism—just because they are related to religion.
Under the American precedents, religious people or groups will not be designated as public figures merely because they have published books or released their sermon videos to the public. In other words, community-based church groups that engage in religious exchanges will not be measured against the standard of public figures.
There are growing calls for universal human rights and efforts of change. Ⓒ The Church of Almighty God
Then, what about the position of South Korean courts? A Supreme Court ruling in 1996 (Law No. 96, 19246) stipulated that in cases of press and publication for religious purposes, higher judgments should be made than in cases of general press and publication.
This illustrates that in forming a judgment, the benefits and value of criticism, and the harmony between human rights and protection of religious freedom, should be taken into consideration. That is, there will not be unlimited power or freedom for criticism of religion and of other religions.
In addition, the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that “improper news with malice and offensive attacks will be regarded as defamation, even if it is made with the intention of criticism, warning, etc.” (Law No. 35199, 2004). This has caused a stir.
According to this precedent of the Supreme Court, it is more necessary for the press to strike a balance through careful and in-depth coverage when it comes to religious matters.
Therefore, rough verification, unfair coverage, and sensationalism can all be a serious problem in news reporting, either by South Korean law or by United States law.
The Church’s universal concept of human rights and the efforts of change it has made should not be undervalued or treated with contempt on the basis of the fact that it comes from China and is concerned with the improvement of human rights in China.
The efforts of the Church for everyone’s human rights and religious freedom should be acknowledged. Be prepared to support it.
Link to the original article: http://www.newsprime.co.kr/news/article.html?no=382335