[VIEWPOINT]Regional Prejudice Must be Eliminated

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[VIEWPOINT]Regional Prejudice Must be Eliminated

Quick - Which of the following words appear most commonly in newspapers?

a) Political bargain b) Despicable act c) Political ties with business d) Disorder e) Rigged election f) Trade deficit g) National sentiment h) Stock price manipulation i) Political squabble j) Regional favoritism

The answer is "j," regional favoritism.

"Kinds" is a Web site operated by the Korea Press Foundation. Its article database is a useful tool for reporters that allows a visitor to search for news stories by Korean keywords.

The result of search runs for stories with the terms listed above that ran in all 10 national daily newspapers from January 2000 to the present is as follow:

a) 19 b) 194 c) 469 d) 478 e) 925 f) 930 g) 1,093 h) 2,488 i) 3,215 j) 6,347

There were just 19 stories with the term "political bargain" but more than 6,000 stories with the term "regional favoritism."

Regional favoritism is a serious issue in Korea, but the search result is still a bit surprising. Perhaps it is an issue because of the media attention?

The Busan and Gwangju chapters of the YMCA recently conducted a survey in their respective cities; 500 high school students in each city were asked about regional favoritism.

More than half of the students responding said favoritism does exist - 62 percent in Gwangju and 54 percent in Busan. Only 12 percent in Gwangju and 4 percent in Busan answered "no." Asked whether the behavior will ever disappear, 32 percent in Gwangju and 22 percent in Busan responded "yes, but about the same number answered "no."

So even young people share our regional prejudices. Obviously we have failed to give them any hope of solving the problem.

Regionalism in politics reared its head during the administration of President Park Chung Hee between 1963 and 1972. But now regional favoritism has become a problem not just in politics but in other parts of our society. A telling example of a victim of regional bias is the Kumho Group.

Kumho was founded by a man from Jeolla, and more than half of the 16 affiliated companies are headed by people from the same region. Is that because Kumho really wanted it that way? No. That there are more CEOs from Jeolla than any other region is because more people from there went to work for the company. "I was concerned that I would be discriminated against at other companies," said an employee of Kumho.

Perhaps Kumho wanted to hire people it saw fit for the jobs no matter where they were from, but ran up against strong barriers to doing so. And by the way, the three Park brothers that own the group, Chairman Park Jeong-koo, Vice Chairman Park Sam-koo and CEO Park Chan-koo, are all married to women from the Gyeongsang provinces.

Kumho surely cannot be the only firm to be affected by our prejudices. Businesses think about the availability of human resources and logistics when deciding where to set up their operations. But when politicians call to say their plants should be in a certain region because of some reason about regional growth and development, that is an "offer" businessmen say they cannot refuse.

It may be too early to think that the problem will disappear with the closing of the "Era of the Three Kims." Here are three points to consider.

Let's make next year, with the elections scheduled, the beginning of the end of regional favoritism.

Let's not even use the word "region." Let's make it meaningless to be talking about how many of the top prosecutors or business leaders are from where. Let's delete the space for family origin from all the forms we use. Let's get rid of all the provinces and redraw the map with just cities and counties.

Let's teach our children well. Let's make them realize how bad prejudice and discrimination are for our national unity. Let's teach them why it is important to put the interest of the nation ahead of believing it is important whom you know and where you are from.

Wouldn't it be terrific, the next time we have a survey, to have people ask in return, "What do you mean by regional favoritism?"


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The writer is a deputy industrial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Min Byong-kwan

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