Opinion in the JoonAng Ilbo: Control your words

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It is an excessive show of its will and an abuse of power for the transition team to directly announce sensitive policy issues in specific detail.
January 29, 2008
During the early stages of the Kim Dae-jung administration, strange placards suddenly started to appear in front of public elementary, middle and high schools. They read, “Let’s not give or accept any presents.”
It happened at a time when Lee Hae-chan, the minister of education at the time, was actively pursuing educational reform.
How did that turn out?
It turned most of the teachers against the government.
In effect, the signs accuses the teachers of being unethical.
How could they then stand confidently in front of their students?
President Roh Moo-hyun often made remarks belittling the press at the beginning of his term. Roh derided journalists as a group who wrote positive articles and in return were treated to drinks and entertainment.
If they criticized the government’s North Korea policy, he accused them of selling out national security issues to help their newspaper’s circulation.
One day, while we were watching the news on television, my daughter asked me whether all journalists were the same. I could not help but blush.
I did not have the guts to write articles disputing the general notion that I belonged to the group known as “the unethical journalists.”
A large number of teachers might have accepted money from the parents of their students. Some of them might have done more than accept the money offered; they might even have tormented students with demands to bring money.
The same can be said of journalists.
There might be journalists who write favorable articles in return for being plied with food and drinks.
There may have even been some journalists who promised to write negative articles about a company if it did not advertise in their papers.
However, if all teachers and journalists were condemned as if they all accepted bribes, the ones who lived their entire lives with self-respect and pride would be unfairly accused.
With such accusations repeated often, even the ones who support administrative reform could end up becoming enemies of reform.
Recently, President-elect Lee Myung-bak made a similar statement: “I think civil servants have reached a dangerous state, where they have become a bit of a stumbling block to the progress of the times.”
He said, “I don’t know how the civil servants came to know about the reform plan, but they have closed all roads leading to them. I do not know how our country could have managed to develop this far in the face of these problems. It is a miracle.”
This remark came as a warning to civil servants who reacted, seemingly to a man, against the government organization restructuring plan and launched an all-out effort to lobby against it.
The “iron rice bowl” of civil servants, which guarantees them employment until they retire, must be broken, needless to say.
We must not leave in place civil servants who receive taxpayers’ money while not working and try to lord it over people and companies with fussy regulations.
However, it is not appropriate to utter comments that give the impression that all civil servants are obstacles to reform in society.
A presidential statement can cause a great stir. This is especially true when the statement comes from the president-elect or a leader at the beginning of his term.
Didn’t the entire labor sector turn against him when the president-elect bandied around the slogan “business-friendly?”
All of the interest groups are nervous because they are worried whether the policy directions at the beginning of the new administration will disadvantage them.
The president-elect should have been more discreet when he said, “I will work with the vice ministers if the National Assembly does not pass a government organization reconstruction bill.”
“I will move ahead looking to the people, not the National Assembly” was something we heard frequently during President Roh’s days.
Cooperation or dialogue with the opposition is not possible with such an attitude.
People’s expectations from the president-elect are high, so people will overlook his indiscreet remarks.
But these words will someday boomerang on the new administration.
“I hope to secure a stable number of seats at the National Assembly for the smooth operation of state affairs,” is not something that should be taken lightly, either.
When President Roh appealed to the people that he hoped for overwhelming support from the Uri Party, he got caught up in a controversy over whether he violated election laws.
Ultimately, he ended up being impeached by the National Assembly.
When the presidential transition committee announced that all high school English classes would be taught in English starting in 2010 or that the English exam of the College Scholastic Ability Test for university admissions would be replaced by a Korean version of the Toefl test focusing on speaking and listening, it caused a great stir right away.
There was tremendous bustling in the private English education market. But there was also strong opposition from parents and teachers.
The transition team can present the governing philosophy of the new administration and present a blueprint of policy guidelines.
However, it is an excessive show of its will and an abuse of power for the team to directly announce sensitive policy issues in specific detail.
Such announcements should properly be handed over to the new administration.
The president-elect and the transition team should control their words.
They must not forget lessons learned from the Roh administration, which failed to free itself from “oral hazards” throughout its term in office.
When the administration gives a bad first impression, it will suffer from it throughout its five-year term in office.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Du-woo

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