The Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980 marks its 33rd anniversary this year, but its democracy activists are going through the wringer right now. The government declined to give their iconic "March for the Beloved" official memorial song status, and the conservative Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo television stations have made baseless claims calling the events of that year a "riot incited by the North Korean military." The disparagement has been coming online and in print.
At the center of it all are the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo. On their programs "Jang Sung-min's Current Affairs Talk" and "Kim Gwang-hyeon's Balanced Views," they've been bringing out men purported to be former North Korean special forces soldiers to claim that country's military was involved in the events of 1980.
Claims that Pyongyang and its spies were involved can be traced all the way back to the martial law command that year. The military government under Chun Doo-hwan eventually apologized and admitted that the claims were false. As a historical or academic issue, the whole thing should be over and done with. To trot out these shameful and unspeakable rumors now is an insult not just to the people of Gwangju, but to democracy itself. They are not even worth replying to; to rebut each and every one of the lies would just play into their tellers' hands.
But since memorial groups are planning to take legal action now, it's only right for the prosecutors, the Ministry of National Defense, and other relevant government agencies to find out the truth. In particular, they should track down the defector who appeared on Dong-A Ilbo’s Channel A and find out exactly what he is supposed to have done. While others claim only that North Korea was "aware," this man is saying that he was actually there at the scene on May 18, 1980. If this is true, then he is a witness who can swiftly and surely settle the issue of whether the North Korean military was indeed involved. He claims to have met with intelligence authorities a few years ago, so he shouldn't be that hard to identify.
The main legal responsibility falls on the network that aired his claims openly and uncritically. We've heard them before from other defectors, but the South Korean public had reached the point where they could filter the noise out, and they never caused much of a stir. Things are more serious this time. Some of the country's leading conservative news outlets have taken the ball and run with it. Their reports have clouded the public's judgment. They are simply too far over the line to be dismissed as the kind of sensationalism networks resort to in order to pull in viewers and make up for their chronic deficits. Jang Sung-min of TV Chosun, a former secretary under President Kim Dae-jung and lawmaker for the Democratic Party, should bear the full brunt of legal and political responsibility for spearheading this base and baseless agitation.
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