Friday, November 30, 2007

No names

The saga of the 'exploding phone' seems to have reached its conclusion. The Chosun Ilbo reported on the incident yesterday:
A man in his 30s was killed on Wednesday in what is believed to have been a mobile-phone explosion. Around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, a worker at a quarry in Cheongwon County, North Chungcheong Province found the backhoe operator identified as Seo (33). The worker told police he found Seo lying beside his backhoe and bleeding from the nose. His phone was on fire. The worker put out the fire and called emergency services. Seo was taken to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.
There was a precedent for thinking the phone battery was to blame:
In June, the press reported that a 22-year-old welder was killed at a steel mill in Lanchow in China’s Gansu Province after the mobile phone in his chest pocket exploded. This was the first time a mobile-phone explosion has killed a person in Korea.
It said little about what phone was responsible:
Seo used the latest slide phone released by a leading Korean electronics company in April.
With the libel laws in Korea, newspapers not wanting to be sued can't name names. The Joongang Ilbo fudged and said
The cell phone was the product of a well-known South Korean electronics company, police officials said. However, police did not reveal the name of the manufacturer nor the type of the cell phone or battery.
Not true at all. The Korea Times let the cat out of the bag:
The phone was made by LG Electronics. The company said the battery was very unlikely to explode since it was wrapped in aluminum foil, not a solid container. The manufacturer of the lithium-ion polymer battery was also not identified. LG said a Japanese and a Korean firm are its two main battery suppliers.
The Times was also quick to report, once it became known, that it was a co-worker who accidentily killed the man in question.
Kwon, 58, said on Thursday night that he hit Seo, 33, while driving his excavator backward at a stone quarry in Cheongwon, North Chungcheong Province, the police said. The phone was on fire when he found Seo lying down on the ground, and he was too afraid to say about what had happened, the police said.

"I was moving the excavator and Seo was suddently out of my sight. I ran out and saw he was lying down bleeding and his cloths on fire,'' Kwon was quoted as saying by the police. ``All these happened in a moment, and I was too afraid about the accident. So I lied that the battery exploded and killed Seo."

A number of Korean and foreign newspapers incautiously reported that the phone explosion killed the man, even though LG Electronics, the manufacturer of the phone, flately denied such a possiblity, given that the lithium-ion polymer battery is not prone to explosion.
Well then, seeing how the media will eat up anything as fear-mongering as an exploding cell phone, perhaps the police shouldn't have announced the findings in its unfinished investigation so hastily. They won't get the blame, however.
It is not immediately known whether LG is to sue the newspapers and Internet news agencies that hastily blamed the firm for the man's death.
There may be two lessons from this: that the media (and police) should be more careful, and that the media should not be so hasty in revealing the source of public health hazards.

1 comment:

Jon Allen said...

thanks for digging up the real story behind the news. I saw the early reports and was a little suspicious.