[Letter to the editor]Government, media: clarify FTA to the publicTen days have passed since South Korea and the United States reached their long-overdue free trade agreement after one year and two months of negotiations. It is now up to the Korean public, media and the government to come to a successful ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement before June 29.
Anti-FTA demonstrations have been in the headlines of domestic and foreign newspapers throughout the negotiation process. Nowhere to be seen in the FTA opposition is the willingness to reach a middle ground. When asked about the specific demands they’d like to raise, a representative of the Korean Alliance Against Korus FTA replied, “We have no choice but to stop the FTA because there is no other way.” Often paralyzing traffic downtown, the crowds of anti-FTA demonstrators mounted extensive (sometimes even violent) opposition propaganda, creating unnecessary confusion and potential danger to other citizens. Their efforts against the ratification of a Korea-U.S. FTA seem to be escalating since the negotiations were concluded. The Korean Alliance Against Korus FTA is a combined force of more than 300 labor, civic and political organizations, including the Democratic Labor Party, Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Korean Peasants League.
While the anti-FTA parties frequently staged massive demonstrations and events to arouse fear, anxiety and opposition from an uninformed public, the pro-FTA parties and government officials are stumped in their communication to citizens about the benefits of engaging in a Korea-U.S. FTA. There are two obstacles that cause this lack of communication to the public. One lies in differing views among government officials on the benefits and costs of an FTA with the United States. The second reason is the government’s ineffective methods in reaching out to the public.
The government must restructure its argument: The national goal is to engage in an FTA, reduce the impact of the predicted losses through thorough structural planning and increase the attainable gains of the FTA.
Political agenda should be set aside for the sake of a unified economic vision for the nation. Having political parties berating each other’s arguments regarding the FTA is hazardous because it confuses the public; the time and energy spent contradicting each other is valuable time wasted, instead of coming up with strong fundamental remedies to future losses.
It is also imperative that pro-FTA parties elaborate on the benefits and costs in more practical, understandable terms. The government must give a structuralized, practical and systematic reassurance to the worried and fearful public. What the public truly needs is not intangible promises and statistics they cannot relate to. Rather than using the language of officialdom, the government and pro-FTA parties must communicate in the language of the people. They must give a comprehensive yet approachable explanation to the repercussions of the FTA that people are most confused about, such as the issues of public service liberalization, fears of environmental destruction, increased competition in medical services, beef imports and mad cow disease, and a rise in temporary jobs. If these worries are mere misconceptions rooted in ignorance and misinformation, it is the responsibility of the government and pro-FTA parties to educate and mitigate unfounded sentiments and unnecessary worries.
Effective communication involves cooperation and more work from government, the public and the press. Most importantly, the media has a huge responsibility in helping the public find their way in the labyrinth of the Korus FTA. The media’s foremost role is to offer a rounded, objective picture of societal issues. The media must give the public the necessary objective information so they will have the chance to form their own opinion.
a senior at Ewha Womans University