SOUTH KOREAN MBC TV’S ASTOUNDINGLY LOW-GRADE “INVESTIGATIVE” NEWS SHOW
On August 10, South Korea’s MBC TV aired a purportedly investigative documentary with a catchy title: “PD Notebook: Shady Deals between Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) and Japan’s Right Wing.” After watching the documentary in Japanese translation, I concluded that it was an appallingly low-grade news show that was “investigative” in name only.
Without giving any concrete evidence, the documentary accused the Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately-financed diplomatic, political, and public policy think tank I have headed in Tokyo since 2007, of having received top-level intelligence and other support from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the primary external spy agency of South Korea. This accusation is absolutely ludicrous. JINF is an independent think tank and has never garnered support from any national or foreign government organization, including the NIS. The documentary constitutes blatant defamation. In its report slandering JINF, MBC aired—multiple times without our permission—video and audio from the “Genron” Internet TV news show that I host every Friday. Clearly MBC has no understanding of the fundamental principles of journalism.
The program referred to me and Professor Tsutomu Nishioka, a key member of JINF and prominent Korean affairs expert, as “ultra right.” That we are not. Also, the program reported that JINF has gained its influence thanks primarily to intelligence and other backing the NIS has provided. This is completely ridiculous. I’m afraid the broadcaster is giving far too much credit to South Korea and its spy outfit.
This nonsensical storyline was built around remarks by a man wearing a face mask who was identified as a “former NIS overseas operative.” Basing his comments on what he claimed to have witnessed while serving in Japan, he stated roughly as followed: the NIS delivered classified top-level intelligence from around the world, including North Korea, to Japanese public security authorities, who in turn passed it on to ultra right-wing forces. To present “facts” supporting his “testimony,” the program quoted Choi Jae-ik, representative director of the National Alliance for Protection of Dokdo (Korean for the disputed Takeshima Island in the Sea of Japan),” who appeared at the outset of the program. Choi discussed his February 2015 visit to Shimane Prefecture to protest Japan’s claim to the island.
“As we drove down the highway to Shimane, a vehicle belonging to a Japanese right-wing group appeared behind us out of nowhere, drove past us, and slowed down. Our car came to a halt in order to avoid a terrible accident. I don’t know how they got wind of where we were headed that day. When our vehicle stopped, several right-wingers came out of their car, stood before us, and covered the windshield of our car with a rising sun flag…We had kept certain plans of ours secret, such as where we would be staying, where we were going, and at what time we were slated to reach our destination. But when we got there, we realized that the right-wingers were already there waiting for us. I don’t know how that was possible.”
Alleged Alliance among NIS, Japanese Public Security, and Right-Wingers
Asked by an interviewer how Japanese right-wingers were able to know his group’s schedule, Choi replied:
“Yes, that really puzzles me, too.”
Although what Choi said on the program had nothing to do with North Korea-related intelligence, I think it reasonable to assume that, by reporting on his “puzzling” encounter with the rightists, the producers of the program intended to give viewers the impression that there is a flow of special intelligence from the NIS to Japanese security authorities to right-wing forces.
As regards this point, the website operated by South Korea’s respected conservative journalist Cho Gap-che posted a note from a subscriber criticizing the documentary:
“I wish to remind you that on February 8, 2017, South Korean media outlets reported as follows: To demand that Shimane Prefecture abolish its ‘Takeshima Day,’ a Korean protest group represented by Choi Jae-Ik (60) and committed to protecting Dokdo will depart for Shimane. At 10 a.m. on February 22, they will hold a news conference in front of the Shimane Prefectural Office building to let it be known that Dokdo belongs legitimately to South Korean. The news conference will precede an 11 a.m. rally at the prefectural civic center plaza aimed at demanding that Japan stop any barbaric attempt to wrest Dokdo back. In addition to Choi, the four-member group will include Choi’s deputy So Hyong-ril (60), public relations manager Yu Hong-re (60), and an aide.”
The subscriber went on to point out:
“The group energetically started publicizing their planned trip to Shimane long before departure, including the date of departure and the names and ages of the participants. They elaborately introduced the details of their planned activities which made it easy for any party to presuppose the range and route of their activities while in Japan (including protest visits to Shimane Prefecture, the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, and the Ministry of Defense.) The group actually made annual visits to Japan by publicizing the trip in a big way well ahead of time.”
The truth of the matter is that, even in the absence of a “special alliance” that Choi claims exists among the NIS, Japanese public security authorities, and right-wingers, the planned activities of his group were already an “open secret”—something that they in fact tried hard to publicize in the first place. And yet the producers developed the program according to the fiction that intelligence was improperly provided by the NIS to Japanese security authorities and right-wingers. The interviewer asked the masked man:
“Did the NIS actually support Japanese ultra right groups?”
“Yes. The right wingers that we supported rallied around Ms. Yoshiko Sakurai. That led to the birth of JINF…It is an institution founded by those who gained the backing of the NIS. When these individuals pursued journalistic activities, such as speeches, writing articles, or appearing on radio or television, they badly needed intelligence. That’s what the NIS provided.”
Eagerness to Approach the North
But the masked man completely failed to specify what intelligence the NIS delivered to JINF and how. Then came this narration:
“When North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens threw Japanese society into a total uproar in the early 2000s, the NIS was believed to have connected some North Koreans to JINF, including Kim Hong-hui, the North Korean spy responsible for the bombing of Korean Air Lines flight 858 over the Andaman Sea, killing 115 crew and passengers in 1987. Thanks to the NIS, JINF members became well-recognized across Japan, especially Tsutomu Nishioka.”
How ridiculous can the claims of this “investigative” news show get? In point of fact, JINF as a think tank has never discussed this former female spy in depth or made any speculation regarding her. In the first place, JINF isn’t engaged in research on the situation of the Korean Peninsula alone. Analyzing the international situation extensively, we make policy proposals with Japan’s national interests firmly in mind. Prof. Nishioka did meet with Kim Hyong-hui once—as requested by the Democratic administration then in power, which invited her to Japan. The NIS did not arrange for Nishioka to meet with Kim.
All of us at JINF, including myself and Nishioka, have not formed any relationship with the NIS or any other foreign intelligence agencies. The assertion that JINF “owes to the NIS” the solid reputation and status it enjoys today is based on an absolutely unwarranted assumption.
The program’s analysis of JINF was based from start to finish on the laughably biased impressions of its producers. The question that needs to be asked is how such a program was drawn up in the first place. I suspect the intent was to weaken the NIS under the pretext of slandering JINF and its members, including Nishioka and myself. Over the years, the NIS has clamped down on the activities of North Korean operatives in the South. President Moon Jae-in, who tirelessly forges ahead with pro-Pyongyang policies, has revised laws in order to restrict the power of the NIS, which currently is headed by the pro-Pyongyang Park Jie-won, who assumed the post in July 2020 at Moon’s request. The spy chief is generally regarded as “one in body and mind” with the United Front Department—the North’s notorious propaganda and espionage unit. I wonder if Moon and Park in their zeal to curry favor with the North may be attempting to undermine the NIS.
MBC’s reporting is unbelievably sloppy by the common standards of journalism. All the more reason for one to suspect that it may perhaps be linked closely to the fierce domestic political power struggle in South Korea preceding the presidential election slated for next March.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 963 in the August 26, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)