LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Journalists need to grab the attention of their readers, and what better way is there than reporting on a possible scandal? Unfortunately, even in a so-called free media system, a simple rumor can get you into big trouble.

Sankei Shimbun reporter Tatsuya Kato’s is now on trial for his alleged libeling of South Korea president Park Geun-Hye. His August 3 article dealing with what Park was doing on the day the Sewol ferry sank and killed more than 300 passengers included reports of a possible rendezvous with a married man. The rumor claimed that the reason she was absent for seven hours during the disaster in April was because she was with a former aide -not for political reasons.

Kato has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has been banned from leaving the country until the case is settled. His counsel argued that the article he wrote was in the public interest and that it was published to inform the Japanese people about South Koreans’ views on President Park.

This has sparked a debate about whether or not South Korean press is as free as it claims to be. Those who disagree with the way Park is managing the government say that she is cracking down on journalists who repeat controversial speculation in an attempt to protect how she is perceived by her people.

In an open letter to the prosecutor general, The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club stated that “Kato’s indictment could give an ‘adverse impact’ to the country’s journalism environment.” In addition, Moon Jae-in, Park’s main rival in the 2012 South Korean presidential elections, recently commented that “the prosecution’s decision to indict Kato was an ‘embarrassment.’”

Why is President Park so insecure about an idle piece of gossip? If it’s not true like she claims, then she should brush it off and continue to show the world that a rumor isn’t enough to keep a woman down.