Distinctly Differing Roles of the Media

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Distinctly Differing Roles of the Media

Although comparisons can be made to the China-Taiwan situation, inter-Korean cooperation and personnel exchanges are significantly different from China’s. The reunion of separated families is an issue that underscores the stark contrasts. China and Taiwan have been allowing reunions of families living on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait since the late 1980s. The same is true of the media. Based on a roving correspondent system, Taiwanese media figures can go to the mainland to cover virtually any significant event, including those involving the National People's Congress. Numerous Taiwanese reporters rushed, unimpeded by Beijing, to the aftermath of a 1994 fire on a pleasure boat that killed twenty-four Taiwan tourists in Zhejiang province, China. Taiwanese correspondents are not allowed to permanently reside in China, however.

Nevertheless, the two Chinese governments still hold tenaciously to their respective principles. Policy changes towards Japanese newspapers provide a telling example. Sankei Shimbun, a conservative right-wing Japanese daily with a strong anti-Chinese orientation, was prohibited from sending a resident correspondent to Beijing even after the establishment of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. While other Japanese daily newspapers were allowed to open bureaus in Beijing, Sankei Shimbun opened one in Taipei instead.

Sankei Shimbun and Chinese authorities succeeded in reaching an "ingenious" compromise in July 1998, however. In short, China agreed to allow Sankei Shimbun to open an office in Beijing, stipulating that it be designated a "China Managing Bureau." China was consequently able to obtain the official observance of the "One-China" principle, and Sankei Shimbun penetrated China. Other prestigious Japanese daily newspapers, including Nikkei, Asahi and Yomiuri, decided to follow the "Sankei formula," and changed the designation of their Beijing branch offices to China Managing Bureaus. The newspapers then opened branch offices in Taipei. Taiwan authorities tacitly consented to the changes.

A delegation of forty-six heads of South Korean newspapers and broadcasting networks left Seoul August 5 on an eight-day visit to North Korea, marking the first such visit since the division of the Korean Peninsula. During the welcoming reception held on the first day, the editor-in-chief of North Korea's Rodong Shinmun, the ruling Workers' Party organ paper, termed the role of the media in the Koreas as the "trumpeter of the grand march toward reunification."

The connotation of the term "trumpeter" isn‘t particularly a positive one for the South Korean press corps in light of the oppression they suffered under past military dictatorships, but the situation is different for the North. It is the expressed "mission" of the North Korean media to "further strengthen the proletariat dictatorship, and work toward reinforcing the solidarity and reunification political ideology of the workers." The media organizations of the two Koreas are thus marked by a vast difference, even from their point of departure. It is hoped that the South Korean delegation's visit to the North will serve to narrow this chasm.
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