By Park Si-soo
MBC formally apologized for airing incorrect information ㅡ which provoked public uproar ㅡ during a broadcast by investigative TV program ``PD Notebook'' on the safety of U.S. beef. In a special edition broadcast Wednesday, it admitted that mistakes were made in translating medical terminology and that a presenter had given incorrect commentary.
However, it denied the government's contention that the program intentionally distorted its contents to instigate public sentiment against the beef imports.
PD Notebook reported on April 29 that there was a high chance that Aretha Vinson who died on April 9 from neurodegenerative disease symptoms had variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the possible human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. The program also claimed BSE also caused ``downer'' cow symptoms.
The report touched off public anger over the imports of U.S. beef, leading to candlelit protests that lasted for more than 40 days. The protests forced President Lee Myung-bak to replace 9 of his 10 senior presidential aides on June 20, hoping that the reshuffle would restore confidence in his four-month-old government.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control officially announced on May 5 that the woman thought to be the first American victim of vCJD, did not die of the disease. Additionally, experts in the cattle field said that while cattle with BSE could show downer symptoms, the reverse was far from true, adding that the majority of downer cattle do not have mad cow disease.
Following the apology, the government, the governing Grand National Party and pro-Lee civic groups condemned MBC for exaggerating the risk of catching vCJD from U.S. beef. They called on the prosecution to investigate the program. Seoul Central Prosecutors Office said Tuesday that it would summon officials from relevant ministries and producers of PD Notebook and question them over the inaccurate reporting.
The Ministry for Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries has filed civil and criminal charges against the producers of the program for exaggerating the BSE risk in U.S. beef and slandering the government delegation that negotiated the import deal.
``PD Notebook overstated the risks of mad cow disease and its relevance to the import of U.S. beef based on false assumptions and unconfirmed facts,'' the ministry said in a press release.
The Press Arbitration Commission said on May 20 that the program must broadcast a rebuttal issued by the government, but MBC rejected the ruling.