War is hell, but so is ‘Computerized Conflict’

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War is hell, but so is ‘Computerized Conflict’

If you want to get the real flavor of society, listen to taxi drivers. As I’ve observed, Korean taxi drivers are among the most opinionated groups in society, being tuned into radio news programs all the time. They are always more than willing to speak out about anything. The war in Iraq is no exception.
By and large, I enjoy listening to the taxi drivers’ two cents, but sometimes it turns out to be rather tiresome. However, on a recent Saturday afternoon in Gwang-hwamun, central Seoul, this was not the case. Anti-war and anti-American activist groups had commandeered the whole area, blockading the street. I’m not necessarily against political demonstrations, but on that very afternoon, it was getting on my nerves.
When I was about to complain about the traffic jam, the taxi driver, an elderly gentleman, made the first move, saying, “Well, this traffic jam is a necessary evil ― it is the only way to show our will against the war.” I have to say I was dumbfounded, for taxi drivers are noted for their bonanza of curses when it comes to traffic jams. He went on to say “This is not a war; the local TV stations should use the term ‘invasion.’”
At just that moment, I got a phone call from an American friend, cutting off the driver’s preaching. Listening to me speak English, it was now the driver’s turn to be dumbfounded and an awkward silence prevailed until I got out of the taxi. The cabbie seemed to have defined his passenger, me, as some sort of puppet of the United States.
Regardless of my taxi driver’s opinion, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” appears to be drawing to a close. While the ground war inspired yet another media war between CNN and Al Jazeera, local TV stations KBS-TV, MBC-TV and SBS-TV engaged in some combat of their own.
Their weapons? Scintillating computer graphics and correspondents sent to the battlefield, or at least nearby. The networks even left the impression that they longed for the outbreak of this war. They came up with so-called “virtual studios,” where anchorwomen in miniskirts displayed and discussed U.S. battlefield strategy as images of tanks, fighter jets and even soldiers popped up beside them on screen. The war hardly seemed real on these fanciful segments.
“It was more like watching a war game. I even got the impression that the TV networks are enjoying that game,” says Kim Si-chul, a college student.
“We reached a conclusion that we need more than pictures from life, in this one case of war,” explained Kim Jong-myung, deputy editor of international news at KBS-TV. “That’s why we came up with our ‘Magic Studio’ to portray the war.” KBS-TV ceased using its all-too-efficient “Magic Studio” after one week, while competitor MBC-TV plowed ahead with its “Virtual Studio.”
Along with computer graphics, the local TV networks ran news clips from CNN, translated by simultaneous interpreters, when their own independent reporting from the Middle East dried up.
Some local TV networks tried to sign a contract with Al Jazeera, which did not work out. No wonder the reporting had a pro-American slant.
Mr. Kim with KBS-TV, however, argues that the local TV networks tried their best to remain fair.
“For one thing, we took pains to decide how to dub this outbreak and came up with ‘The U.S. Attack on Iraq,’ neither ‘war’ nor ‘invasion.’”
The go-between policy, however, turned out not to strike a happy medium. Dissatisfied viewers turned their eyes from the TV screens to Al Jazeera’s Web site.

by Chun Su-jin
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