m a r k a n d e y a

On Korean Reporters

Posted by Brian on February 26, 2006

There’s some interesting discussion going on over at Plunge’s blog regarding the nature of reporters in Korea. Specifically, they’re talking about the Toby Dawson case, in which yet another American athlete with Korean blood is waylayed by the over-zealous Korean media with questions about his parentage.

Their abominable behavior reminds me of an important rule that any reader would be wise to keep in mind when they read anything in the Korean press. And that rule is: Korean reporters are Korean first, reporters second. I’ll explain.

In James Fallows’ book, Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, he reports a heated discussion on a television discussion on journalistic ethics during the Vietnam war. Seated with two members of the military were two journalists who had been doing work in Vietnam covering the war for the American press. One question put to the journalists was along the lines of, “If you were in the jungle covering the war as an impartial observer and you stumbled upon a ambush planned by the Viet Cong, would you attempt to warn any approaching American soldiers?” One reporter said no, the other waffled a bit before saying no. Needless to say, the military men were pissed.

You may or may not agree with their answer, but it does demonstrate the seriousness of the journalists’ commitment to their journalistic ethos. Rather than get involved and, as Americans, help their own side’s soldiers, they would remain committed to their goal of being independent news reporters rather than news makers.

Put Korean reporters on the case with an unknowing Korean unit walking into a trap, and you won’t get the same response.  In a case like this, Koreans close ranks.

This attitude pretty much colors everything you see and hear on Korean TV and in the papers. Have you ever wondered why Korean “experts” on this subject or that always seem to agree with overwhelming Korean opinion, no matter how contentious the issue (Ohno wasn’t fouled; the World Cup refereeing was fair; the tank driver was careless; your fan at home can kill you)? Now you know why. The “Korean perspective” trumps everything else.

The fall of Dr. Hwang, however, seems to indicate that this may be breaking down. With the Dr. Hwang case, you had maverick Korean researchers working with Korean reporters to bring out the truth. All this despite the fact that Dr. Hwang was bringing mountains of recognition for Korea from the foreign media. This, of course, is a good sign.

On the flip side, it would appear that the American media is slipping when it comes to upholding their commitment to fairness and independence. Consider the poor treatment given to Al Gore by the media during the 2000 election, or the number of wimpy journalists who are part of the current White House press corp who will accept at face value any answer, no matter how evasive, disengenuous, or dishonest it is.

Still, the tendency for Korean reporters to parrot the national line, whatever that national line is, makes it difficult to trust them when it comes to their reporting on issues that are sensitive to their Korean readers. More often than not, their desire to appeal to the masses along with their own nationalistic inclinations puts their objectivity deep into the realm of doubt.

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One Response to “On Korean Reporters”

  1. scott said

    You nailed it.

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