Coverage of Minorities Should Expand

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Coverage of Minorities Should Expand

The Little Voices May Never Be Heard From Unless the Media Seek Them Out

The JoongAng Ilbo column "Minority Voices" struck me as fresh and surprising. The column, which appears on the newspaper''s opinion page, first ran last July and each week since has diligently passed on to readers the thinking of minorities in our society and others who are in some way alienated from the mainstream. I would like to relate a few of my thoughts about the column.

The mere fact that a major daily newspaper is devoting space on its pages regularly to minority opinions is a big step forward. Of course, finding out what people throughout society, including minorities, are saying is a fundamental part of the media''s mission, but in actuality we haven''t heard that much from minorities.

The media in Korea have paid attention to minorities only occasionally and even then only in a very limited way. Normally the papers and broadcast media gear their content to the majority except when some special day rolls around, and then they make a big to-do. For instance, there is hardly ever much coverage of the problems of the handicapped until the Day of the Disabled (April 20) approaches, and then we see special supplements and special reports for awhile. Soon the day is past and forgotten. It makes one worry a bit about our unbalanced media diet.

But then one day the JoongAng Ilbo, known as a conservative daily, revealed a new side of itself as an open forum, giving regular coverage to, among other things, minority issues. Devoting a weekly column to articles written by representatives of minority groups and "outsiders" is an effort to bring greater balance to the coverage of issues.

"Minority Voices" was quick to respond when comedian Hong Sok-chon was outed as a homosexual and banned from television. The leader of a homosexual advocacy group was given the opportunity to provide readers with a better understanding of alternate sexual orientation and the homosexual community''s views on human rights.

In another column, the problem of sexual abuse in cyberspace was discussed. And when Paek Ji-young''s career was ruined by the unauthorized circulation of a sex video of her, the column dealt with the issue of invasion of privacy. A column about freelance college lecturers was also a good one.

Nevertheless, "Minority Voices" has not always been 100 percent satisfactory. It is a wonderful idea, but there is room for improvement. Sometimes the full scope of an issue is simply not covered adequately. And there have been times when the contributor''s writing skills are somewhat limited, making the column less readable than it could be. It is not so easy for someone who is involved in a citizens'' movement, but who is not a professional writer, to present his or her ideas effectively in writing. Some measures need to be taken to attract many more readers to that page.

Another problem is space. Now that coverage of minority issues has become a feature of the newspaper, let''s really do a proper job of it by giving it more room.

Instead of putting on the opinion page as a column, why not give it at least one full page somewhere in the paper once a week? This page could include other interesting, informative material to supplement the column itself, such as graphs of related statistics, on-site interviews and pictures, reports on the status of the same issue in other countries and how it is handled there, and lists of organizations and how to contact them.

The types of minorities and subject areas covered also need to be broadened. Some of the issues covered so far are the physically disabled, adoption, the women''s movement, foreign laborers in Korea, AIDS victims, the homeless, victims of medical malpractice, defectors from North Korea, the urban poor, and students accommodated at alternative school systems. But there are many other people out there who deserve to be heard from. How about clinical pathologists, who were left out of the turmoil between doctors and pharmacists over the reform of the prescription system? Or acupuncturists, who are oppressed by the "legitimate" medical majority? What about the social workers, who form the backbone of the social welfare system but whose voices are seldom heard? These are also minorities in a real sense, and truly open forum will give them an opportunity to speak out, too.

The term "minority" has generally been used to refer to ethnic minorities, but in the JoongAng Ilbo''s "Minority Voices" column, it has come to include any of those parts of our society that we seldom hear about: people in marginal or unusual jobs or people who are outsiders in economic or social status. We shall hear from the most vocal parts of society whether we make any extra effort to do so or not. But the little voices of most minorities may never be heard if the media do not purposely seek them out and tell their stories. Democracy is based on majority rule, but it also includes protection for minorities. The media, through more and better coverage of people''s rights and minority issues, can be a steppingstone to a democratic society that embraces and protects all.

The writer is the secretary general of the People''s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

by Park Won-soon

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