SEOUL, South Korea — When the government reversed itself last month in the face of a public outcry and lifted a ban on the publication of two monthly magazines, it appeared that a significant blow had been struck for freedom of the press in South Korea.
But on Wednesday, it became clear that the victory was less than total.
Lee Jong Gak, a reporter for one of the magazines, Shin Dong-A, told The Times that the magazine had cut significant parts from an article he wrote. He said editors had cut about a page and a half of a 25-page article based on an 11-hour interview with Lee Hu Rak, a former director of the Korean CIA.
The excised section, Lee said, contained an indirect acknowledgment that in 1973 the KCIA, under Lee Hu Rak's direction, abducted presidential aspirant Kim Dae Jung in Tokyo and brought him back to Seoul.
"It was the core of the story," reporter Lee said, adding that he had protested the cuts.
Kim Dae Jung said in a speech Sunday that the government, while pretending to lift the ban on publication of the magazine, had forced editors to omit parts of the interview that it contended might damage relations with Japan.
The abduction caused a major uproar in Japan, where it was considered an affront to Japanese sovereignty. But South Korean and Japanese officials agreed to shelve the incident without fixing blame. Lee Hu Rak's remarks constituted the first confirmation that the South Korean government was responsible.
The interview story, as written, did not directly quote Lee Hu Rak as confessing that he had ordered the abduction, reporter Lee said. The former KCIA chief, Lee added, had insisted that the magazine avoid directly attributing the abduction to him or to the KCIA.
Lee's answers to indirect questions, however, provided evidence that the ex-KCIA chief had in fact ordered the abduction. And the published version of the interview does include a statement from Lee Hu Rak that he had "received a briefing" on the abduction after it was carried out.
At one point in the interview, reporter Lee said, the former KCIA chief said that the director of the agency's overseas operations division had made arrangements to send to Japan the boat that brought Kim back to South Korea. But that quote was eliminated, he said.
Also missing was a Lee Hu Rak statement that he did not regret what he had done and would "do the same thing over again" if he had the chance.
Lee said his editors and publishers insisted on making the cuts "to keep progress toward press freedom moving forward." They decided, he said, that the information in question would have damaged South Korea's relations with Japan, as the government had contended.
"Under the press law that is still on the books, the very existence of Shin Dong-A was at stake," Lee said. "The government could have revoked our license to publish."
He said that in the past, the magazine had "no way to fight" any order from the Agency for National Security Planning, the new name for the KCIA. But this time, he said, "at least we got this far."
On Sept. 19, the security agency secretly ordered the ban on publication of the October issues of Shin Dong-A and the Monthly Chosun, which had a shorter interview with the former KCIA director. The order was issued despite President Chun Doo Hwan's July 1 promise to allow freedom of the press.
Five days later, the Ministry of Culture and Information admitted that the magazines had been banned but defended the action by calling Lee Hu Rak's comments "irresponsible."
A public outcry, including a protest from Roh Tae Woo, the ruling Democratic Justice Party's candidate for president, forced the government to rescind the ban.
Sensitive parts of the final version of the Monthly Chosun interview story also were cut, reporter Lee said. He said that as far as he knows, the magazines did not consult with each other on the editing.