MBC says ‘Omniscient’ staff did not intend offence with Sewol clip

By Shim Woo-hyun
  • Published : May 17, 2018 - 10:38
  • Updated : May 17, 2018 - 16:07

Network broadcaster MBC on Wednesday said the producers of a controversial episode of its entertainment show “Omniscient” had no intention of offending the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster with the use of news footage of the accident.

The committee formed on May 9 to conduct an internal audit over the entertainment show’s use of news clips and a word regarding the Sewol ferry disaster made the announcement during a press conference held at the network’s headquarters located in Sangam-dong, western Seoul. The investigation ended Monday.

The six-member committee formed to probe the offensive use of Sewol ferry sinking new footage, speaks at Wednesday’s press conference held in MBC headquarters in Sangam-dong, Seoul. (MBC)

“The incident appears to have happened largely due to a series of careless actions by the producers concerned,” said Oh Sei-beom, a lawyer who was part of the committee investigating the case. Oh is also a member of Lawyers for Democratic Society as well as the special committee looking into the Sewol ferry disaster.

In an episode of “Omniscient” that aired May 5, the production team used edited clips from news reports covering the Sewol ferry sinking disaster alongside footage of comedian Lee Young-ja eating fish cake. In the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster, users of the far-right website “Ilbe” often used the word ”eomuk,“ meaning “fish cake”, to describe victims of the accident.

After the show aired, criticism mounted over improper use of the news footage together with the problematic term. In response, MBC formed a committee -- consisting of five MBC officials and lawyer Oh -- to investigate the production process of the episode.

The committee members conducted several interviews with officials related to the production, as well as an on-site probe into the production procedure. The committee also checked some producers’ cellphones and social media activities, with their permission, it said.

Three producers were aware that the footage depicted the Sewol ferry disaster, said committee member Oh Dong-un, the director of the TV program monitoring department of MBC.

However, the three did not think using Sewol clips would have such consequences, the committee members said. The assistant editor, who edited the Sewol clips, appeared to have been unaware of the additional connotation to the word for fish cake, the members added.

The committee members admitted there were limits to the probe, as it was not a police investigation, meaning the committee was not in a position to confirm whether the related producers had ties with the far-right website members or not.

“Regardless of their intention, the committee has asked the disciplinary committee to impose penalties on four people, who were in charge of the production and preview process. We reached a conclusion to make them take responsibility over the inattentive dealing with the clips for an entertainment show,” said Cho Neung-hee, head of the probe committee.

Responding to the announcement, MBC CEO Choi Seung pledged the company would find measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

“I, too, was unable to believe the committee’s announcement,” Choi said. “If it was one person’s fault, it might have been easier to convince the public. However, the committee’s announcement laid bare the problem of the company’s production system instead. It is very painful to bear and requires us to engage in much more self-reflection,” Choi said.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)