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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Jan. 3)

All News 06:55 January 03, 2017

1,000 days
Journalists should have asked Park about Sewol allegations of Navy, US military

It took 992 days for President Park Geun-hye to offer an alibi to the public as to what she was doing on April 16, 2014, when the Sewol ferry disaster occurred, leaving over 300 dead or missing.

Unfortunately, the explanation she offered in her meeting with reporters on Sunday is not convincing.

And lamentably, Park appeared to confuse the timing of the accident and following speculation involving her male confidant Jeong Yun-hoe. She mentioned both “last year” and “the year before last” in an unsure manner.

It was Aug. 3, 2014 when Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun raised the speculation through a report. The paper alleged that Park was with civilian Jeong for several hours on April 16, 2014, outside the presidential office.

Apart from the truth behind a variety of allegations, it is inappropriate for the incumbent president to confuse the year of the disaster in her official comments to citizens. The meetings with reporters involving questions were arranged by Cheong Wa Dae on the occasion of New Year’s Day.

Park also said she was relieved by the news in the morning on the day that all passengers had been rescued, which was soon found to be false.

If her remarks are true, this means a serious loophole in real-time countermeasures of the state agencies, such as the National Intelligence Service and the military.

The broadcasters’ false report was due to an unidentified figure’s groundless yelling, “(I’ve found that) all (476) passengers have been rescued,” to media and families of the passengers, who had gathered at a port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province.

Concerning her unreasonable comments on TV around 5 p.m., more than six hours after the ferry sank on the day, Park told reporters Sunday that her remarks at that time could be convincing in a broad context.

Park had questioned her staffers, “Is it difficult (for maritime police) to detect the students wearing life jackets?”

Few would have expected that the suspended president would not make a sincere apology to the country in regards to her alleged neglecting of duties on April 16, 2014 and her female confidante Choi Soon-sil’s meddling in state affairs.

Park is assumed to have sought to make alibis via her “voluntary” meeting with the media, as the independent counsel and the Constitutional Court are looking into the Park scandal, respectively.

As she is not allowed to make an official New Year’s speech to the public due to her suspended status in the wake of the impeachment accord by the National Assembly, she might have chosen to meet reporters as a defensive tool.

Given that she had often declined to accept questions after speeches, this represented a good opportunity for media. Reporters should have been more aggressive and sharper in their inquiries.

Journalists should have delivered questions as to why authorities had failed to make full-fledged rescue activities. Park’s excuse Sunday that she “had instructed agencies to dispatch the commandos if necessary” does not match what the administration did after the Sewol ferry began to sink.

They should have demanded Park clarify her stance over allegations the South Korean military rejected an offer from the US to provide aid in rescue activities. In addition, they should have asked why the move by the then chief of staff of the Navy to dispatch a salvage vessel to the Sewol was, reportedly, blocked by an undisclosed power.

Park and Cheong Wa Dae might have already destroyed evidence on the ferry case.

Nonetheless, the independent counsel -- led by a special group of prosecutors -- should search the presidential office as soon as possible.

There is a high possibility that lax rescue activities or a following lax investigation into the accident were masterminded by at least one of these five: Park, then-presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, then-National Security Adviser Kim Jang-soo, then-Civil Affairs Secretary Woo Byung-woo and Choi Soon-sil.

The Sewol case, marking its 1,000th day since the sinking on Jan. 9, could be a crucial factor determining a potential jail term of Park after her ouster. The ship has yet to be salvaged.

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