'Unanswered Questions' gets gov't warning for 'biased portrayal' of Fifty Fifty

Fifty Fifty members pose for a photo at a press conference held in April 2023. [NEWS1]

The SBS investigative program "Unanswered Questions" (1992-) was given a warning by the government on Tuesday for its "biased portrayal" of K-pop girl group Fifty Fifty and its dispute with agency Attrakt that aired last year.

“Unanswered Questions” came under fire for showing more of the girl group's side of the case than the agency's, ultimately leading the broadcaster to remove all related videos from its YouTube channel after being bombarded with complaints from viewers.

The program’s production team, who made a statement at a committee meeting held Tuesday by the Korea Communications Standards Commission, the country's media regulator, said they “tried to fairly reflect all stakeholders’ opinions.”

The production team apologized but argued that they had received permission to air the footage from the three main stakeholders featured in the episode: entertainment agency Attrakt, CEO of content company The Givers Ahn Sung-il, and the Fifty Fifty members.

“The production team lacked wisdom and delicacy in showing the members’ letters in an emotional light in the last part of the episode, which could have made viewers uncomfortable,” the staff said. “As a TV program that has been loved by viewers for 30 years, we are deeply reflecting on our actions. We will take caution to not repeat such incidents.”

“We were greedy in thinking that the three stakeholders could reconcile and that we could film the scene [of reconciliation]. Our biggest regret is that Attrakt’s CEO did not make an appearance in the episode,” they added.

They also said they have “no plans” to air a follow-up episode.

“The original lawsuit is ongoing, and the members are emotionally distressed […] as such, we have no plans to air another episode.”

KCSC committee head Ryu Hee-lim and committee members Moon Jae-wan and Lee Jung-ok all sided with the decision to issue a warning to SBS.

A warning is a formal and legal penalty given by the government. Should a broadcaster receive many warnings from the government, it could lead to license or other restrictions.

“I believe the program violated the fairness doctrine by airing an episode that cannot be seen as fair right before the decision was made for the provisional injunction,” Moon said. “There is also large possibility that it defamed the related parties.”

“Their decision to not give a stand-in notice may have been to protect the informant, but by doing so they indirectly lied to the viewers,” Lee said.

“The program has caused a great social disruption, and though [the crew] removed the episode and apologized for it, legal sanctions are inevitable,” Ryu said.