No guns are fired. Few casualties are reported. Despite the absence of unmistakable signs of a conventional armed conflict, the ongoing battle, pitting vernacular news outlets against each other, is being fought just as fiercely.
The war map is clearly drawn, with a progressive newspaper on one side and major conservative newspapers on the other. But the cause and goals are less clear, since it is being fought after President Kim Dae-jung accented the need for the overhaul of the mass media in his New Year news conference.
Some speculate that the ongoing conflict is just a proxy war in which a pro-government newspaper is trying to corner conservatives that are not kind to the incumbent government. But this argument appears hard to verify.
In the ``war by the pen'' being waged on the battleground of their respective newspapers, the Hankyoreh, a progressive daily considered close to the Kim Dae-jung administration, drew first blood.
On its March 6 edition, the Hankyoreh carried a front-page article and three explanatory articles attacking Dong-A Ilbo, one of the country's major dailies, for allegedly sitting idle on a fund of four billion won it had raised to support young marathoners. Dong-A hosts an international marathon event annually.
Dong-A went on the defensive with a vengeance. The following day, Dong-A claimed that Hankyoreh's allegations were an ill-intentioned attack on the goodwill of people wishing to see the country's marathoners perform well internationally.
Nonetheless, the Hankyoreh widened the front on March 8, branding the Dong- A and Chosun Ilbo headquarters buildings in the heart of Seoul as ``sanctuaries'' of power that had forced the detour of a subway line and a major change in urban landscaping at the expense of billions of won in terms of traffic congestion.
Hankyoreh didn't relent. It raised the issue of a residence, sprawling over 3,748 pyong (one pyong is equivalent to 3.3 square meters), which belongs to a founding family member of the Chosun Ilbo, which was said to be the largest in Seoul. The progressive newspaper upped the ante one notch, claiming that the gift of company shares from the owner to his sons was illegal and morally wrong, while alluding to alleged internal fighting over the ownership of Chosun Ilbo, which claims to be the country's most widely-circulated newspaper. …