+ A

SBS scraps report on delay in Sewol’s salvage

May 05,2017
SBS anchor Kim Sung-joon apologized Wednesday night for a report that suggested the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries delayed salvaging the Sewol ferry until the presidential election to help the candidacy of presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in.

“The report aired on 8 p.m. on Tuesday had meant to shed light on the suspicion that the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has been dilly-dallying with the salvage process until former president Park Geun-hye was impeached, and that the ministry suddenly sped up the process possibly keeping in mind a change of administration from the ruling party to opposition,” Kim said in an apology aired Wednesday night.

Members of the opposition parties, including Moon, criticized the Park administration for its failure to respond in timely manner to the Sewol’s sinking in 2014.

“But the report was not handled correctly and conveyed a message not originally intended,” Kim said. “Many understood the report to suggest that the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries had delayed the salvage of the Sewol all this time because of presidential candidate Moon Jae-in.

“That was not the intention of the report at all. I apologize to the relatives of the Sewol ferry victims, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Moon Jae-in and to all viewers.”

Cho Eul-sun, who reported the piece headlined, “Possible deal with the next administration, investigation into why the salvage was delayed,” interviewed an official of the Oceans Ministry.

“To be honest, this salvaging process is all about helping Moon. It’s in return for his promise to expand the Oceans Ministry,” the unnamed official said, according to Cho’s report.

The Oceans Ministry denied this allegation.

“There have been no politics involved in the salvage process,” said Minister of Oceans and Fisheries Kim Young-suk in a press conference on Thursday. “The official, a level-seven official just three years in service, said he talked with the SBS reporter on the phone a few times for about a week, from April 16.”

The civil service has nine ranks, with level one being the highest.

“The official said he talked about rumors he heard on the news, and that the SBS reporter used what he said without asking his permission.”

The official confessed in an internal ministry investigation after the report was aired that he was the one who talked to the SBS reporter. The official was not involved in the salvage process and will face disciplinary actions, Kim said.

Moon issued a statement Wednesday denying the allegations.

“The SBS report is not worthy of people’s attention because it does not make any sense,” Moon said in the statement. “I have been calling for the salvaging of the ferry from 2014 but the government ignored these requests. The Oceans Ministry has been delaying the salvage process for around three years. How can it be possible that the ministry knew all along in those three years that someone from the opposition party would become a strong candidate for the election?”

The report was removed from the SBS website early Wednesday.

“I alone am responsible for this decision to delete the article from the website, and I did so to stop the case from creating more rumors,” said the SBS anchor. “I request political parties refrain from using this incident for their political purposes.”

Members of the Democratic Party visited SBS headquarters in western Seoul on Wednesday to demand to know why they had broadcast the report. The Liberty Korea Party, predecessor of the former ruling Saenuri Party, also visited the headquarters that day and again on Thursday asking why it scrapped the report.

The ferry sank southwest of Jindo, an island in South Jeolla, on April 16, 2014. It was carrying 476 people, 304 of whom, mostly high school students on a field trip, died. Nine bodies are still unaccounted for and relatives of the nine believe their remains may be inside the ship.

The ferry was lifted from the seabed on March 22 and on April 9 transferred to the Mokpo New Port in South Jeolla. The Oceans Ministry announced on Thursday that it found on Wednesday 50 personal effects of the passengers, bringing the total number of articles to 822.

BY LEE SEUNG-HO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]