[Viewpoint] Have true compassion for Haiti

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[Viewpoint] Have true compassion for Haiti

It is always depressing to view how news from South Korea was displayed on American television in the 1980s. Young policemen stormed after their peers in college amid clouds of tear gas while citizens fled scenes of violence.

No attention was given to the agony and struggles of the Koreans behind the battle cries on the screen depicting war-like chaos.

The people on a land with a 5,000-year history plagued by invasion and oppression due to its geographical weaknesses went largely ignored. The camera lens simply spotlighted violent protests. There was little sympathy for the tears, sweat and desires of the Korean people.

We were just an unfortunate and underdeveloped lot desperately fighting with one another in a chaos-prone country.

Sadly, our media has been emulating the callous portrayal of a country in distress when reporting on the earthquake-devastated Haiti.

A cascade of media coverage on massive deaths, political incompetence, corruption, street looting, vandalism, violence, crime and desperate and reckless clashes over foreign aid packs underscores the catastrophic and tragic developments in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

True, documenting and reporting the apocalyptic scenes of the rubble-strewn capital, fumigation, malnutrition, and insecurity has been instrumental in precipitating international aid and humanitarian relief efforts.

But what about the Haitians? They are portrayed as battered and poor people with no sense of order and justice, jumping over one another for food and water, and rushing to escape from their ill-fated land.

Close-up scenes of children eating dirt-smeared crackers - although without bad intentions - are delivered through condescending foreign eyes.

The Western press reports on poorer corners of the earth when natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and man-made misfortunes like terrorism, military coups and violent protests erupt.

These news agencies that dominate world news coverage groom, filter and sometimes fabricate to impose their perspective while subtly patronizing political, economic and cultural legacies of underdeveloped and impoverished nations.

There were days when we Koreans ate off dirty streets. In the post-war days of extreme deprivation, children in rags paraded behind American soldiers begging for chocolate bars.

The American comedy hit “M*A*S*H” based on American forces in Korea during the Korean War mocked the shanty towns where beggars roamed and were often filled with devious people willing to do anything to earn a penny.

The contemptuous and prejudicial portrayal of our society during the hard times hurt the pride of Koreans for a very long time.

We must reflect upon our media reports on the Haitian tragedy.

The Caribbean island became the world’s first post-colonial black-led republic in 1804 after it gained independence from a successful rebellion against slavery. The country was one of the aid donors to poverty-ridden South Korea after the war.

But that fact is little known.

Also rare are touching human stories as one that showed a young boy pulled out from the rubble saying that his hope to hear his mother’s voice again kept him alive.

We should turn our eyes to the courage and resilience of people struggling to get back on their feet instead of the devastating scenes of destruction. We must highlight the hope and strength of the Haitian people instead of capitalizing on their grief.

Sensationalistic “soul-less journalism” is a dangerous pit.

We can now afford to send correspondents to anywhere on the globe. We must develop our voice and perspective in reporting foreign affairs.

We should avoid the temptation of condescending reports about tragedies. Instead of sarcasm, our reports should display compassion and understanding.

Illuminating human courage and will in atrocious and desperate conditions is the media’s most honorable and worthy function.

*The writer is a journalism professor at Hanyang University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jung-kee
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