By Yun Suh-young
The local daily Chosun Ilbo, boasting the largest circulation in the country, apologized Sunday for misreporting a rape incident and turning an innocent citizen into a suspect.
The daily printed on its Saturday city edition’s front page the picture of a 23-year-old man who was caught Friday for kidnapping and raping a seven-year-old girl. Under the headline, “Sick society raped a child,” the paper released two pictures thought to be that of the offender along with an article revealing his full name, Koh Jong-seok.
However, the picture turned out to be of a different person.
On the day the paper was delivered, the person who claimed he was the one pictured called the newspaper and complained that his picture had been wrongly printed.
The Chosun Ilbo recognized that it had made a mistake at around 5 p.m. Saturday, but did not apologize until the next day. The paper posted a formal apology on its Internet homepage at 00:13 a.m. Sunday.
“We deeply apologize to the person who had his picture printed as one of the offenders on the front page of our Saturday paper. We also apologize to our readers,” the daily said in its online apology.
The paper said it had made the utmost efforts to confirm the person in the picture was the offender and was assured of it until a friend of the publicized victim claimed it was not.
“We decided to print the picture of the offender thinking he could be another serious sex offender like Cho Doo-soon. We found the image while searching the Internet for a picture of Koh. We then asked the police and Koh’s neighbors to identify the man in the picture and they all claimed it was Koh. We were convinced that it was him when we printed the picture in our final edition,” the Chosun Ilbo explained in its online apology.
The issue first arose when a netizen who claimed he was a friend of the person in the picture uploaded an angry note on the board of an Internet portal saying, “The person in the picture pointed out as the sex offender is actually my friend who aspires to become a comedian. He is utterly shocked and distressed by the incident. He doesn’t know what to do right now and even say he wants to die.”
The daily recognized that it failed to check with the person involved.
“We failed to ask Koh himself to identify the person in the picture until the next day because reporters couldn’t access him when he was being questioned. Only after receiving the complaint could we ask the police to ask Koh to confirm it. He said the person in the picture was someone he knew but not himself.”
The paper is receiving criticism from the public for its hasty publication.
“This is not just misreporting, but a tragedy caused by the fabrication of a false fact. Not only did a sick society rape a child, the sick paper injured an innocent person,” said a netizen on Twitter.
Another claimed the paper should not only apologize on paper and fire the reporter, it should also fire the editor and related personnel.
“The New York Times fired Jayson Blair in 2003 for fabricating news. They then published an apology on two pages of its paper. Its editor in chief also resigned. Are you aware of this Chosun Ilbo?”
The incident is expected to raise fresh debate on whether or not it is the media’s role to reveal the identity of a criminal.
The principle is to not reveal personal information about the offender until the sentence is confirmed to protect the rights of the criminal. The Chosun Ilbo began publishing private information on criminals in 2009 as a means to fight serious crime, claiming it was the readers’ right to know. The Korea News Editors’ Association leaves it to the newspapers’ own judgment on printing criminals’ photos.
Media Today, a journal reporting news about the media, cited a previous false accusation case of Koh Sook-jong, 30 years ago. She turned out to be innocent and said media should be careful about spreading information about offenders.