[Viewpoint] Positivity part of a journalist’s job

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[Viewpoint] Positivity part of a journalist’s job

There is a TV program where beautiful ladies from other countries who live in Korea appear as panel members and talk about their experiences in the country. When asked what they were most afraid of, many answered, “Going home.” The reason was that they found living in Korea very convenient and Koreans so friendly that they did not want to go home.

Many Koreans have travelled overseas, whether on vacation or for business. As soon as they arrive at the airport in Korea after their trips, they feel one thing in common: Wherever one may go around the world, there is no place like Korea.

Apart from the obvious reasons - Koreans can easily communicate using the Korean language and they are accustomed to living here - there are other merits. Administrative affairs are handled swiftly and public transport is varied and comes frequently. There is good food, easy access to the Internet and door-to-door delivery service. Telephones and gas can be hooked up immediately after moving, and car insurance companies rush to the scenes of accidents without delay.

Even in an advanced country, it is not very common to enjoy such conveniences. Only after living in a slow and inflexible culture can we realize that our Korean lifestyle has such advantages.

However, reading newspapers or watching TV might change one’s mind. Negative images such as political strife, corruption and criticism fill the front pages of dailies, and news anchors intensify feelings of insecurity and pessimism in our society with their upset ranting. After being exposed to this all day long, people seem to grow discontented and angry. Many see problems everywhere. Social conflict has become more and more intense between different regions, the rich and the poor, management and labor and even among union workers.

Our society is heading in a truly worrisome direction. It is well known that the media support democracy and the constitution through their role as critics. However, in spite of those intentions, the media’s negative effects are stronger than one may think.

When I worked as a judge I used to hold lectures for university students. In the question and answer sessions after the lectures, students often mentioned the Korean saying, “If one has money one is innocent, if not, one is guilty,” and said trials usually sided with the rich and were disadvantageous to the poor. They asked what I thought. They also often asked for a good way to keep judicial power independent and to stop the custom of giving privileges to people who formerly served in high posts.

Even though the students had not experienced these things or seen or heard about them directly, generations of them asked the same questions using the exact same words and expressions, as if such problems were commonplace. The students did not ask about the reliability of whoever coined the phrase “If one has money one is innocent, if not one is guilty,” nor did they try to find out whether it was actually true. They generalized based on the negative reporting they have been exposed to in newspapers and on television. In this context, people accuse every area of our society of corruption. They grow suspicious of others, express their anger and get frustrated about our society all too easily.

When a disaster takes place, broadcasters focus on the grief of the families of the victims, showing such scenes day in and day out. Different stations air the families crying or passing out, as if competing against one another.

But when Cho Seung-hui went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech in 2007, U.S. broadcasters showed the families of the victims trying to control their emotions, and other people concerned responded to the incident in a calm manner. Broadcasters did not show the families shouting out loud, demanding those concerned be punished or protesting against the authorities’ way of handling funeral services.

When Koreans sent a letter of apology, the families of the victims said that there was no need for Korea to apologize, as Cho committed his crimes because he was mentally ill. Watching this, Koreans concluded that Americans try to control their grief when they mourn over victims of a disaster.

But one of my acquaintances had another opinion. The families of the victims must have experienced sadness and shock the same way we Koreans would, and some of them must have cried out. But by selectively showing those who responded to the situation in a rational way, the media suggested a certain ideal model or direction for their society.

Of course, we cannot deny that there is conflict in our society, but we must choose whether to find better ways to resolve it or we risk encouraging illegal acts. And we make that choice with how we report on these conflicts. It may be dull to report the sunny side of society, but this kind of news is a glorification of the truth.

Wearing a red band over one’s forehead or clenching one’s fists have become the usual ways to express one’s discontent. Potentially deadly bamboo sticks and slingshots have been used as weapons to reprimand the powerful. Emphasizing these aspects has been mistakenly viewed as the media’s role.

But it does not do much good to ignore the merits of our society and report only the conflict and strife without presenting any possible resolutions.

*The writer is a lawyer. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Young-hye
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