[Letters] Reporter conflict was inevitable

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[Letters] Reporter conflict was inevitable

As a journalism student, I think that the war of words between the Finance Ministry and a Wall Street Journal reporter was going to break out sometime, somewhere. I can see the two distinctively interest-seeking sides and understand why they do that. The government agency is trying to present a good image of Korea to foreign reporters here, providing selective information to them. On the other side, foreign reporters in Korea, including the famous WSJ reporter, tend to eagerly claim freedom of speech, asserting that the Korean government is not providing enough information.

Although the difference between the two sides is understandable, the terrible incident at the Finance Ministry press conference is not acceptable.

Firstly, the WSJ reporter threw a question that is totally inappropriate in the light of the purpose of the press conference. According to the JoongAng Daily’s article covering the incident, the press conference is regularly arranged by the Finance Ministry in order to help foreign reporters in Seoul understand the latest issues in the Korean economy and government policies. The WSJ reporter’s question regarding International Women’s Day is not what the Finance Ministry is supposed to answer. Rather, it’s a question that should be thrown at the Ministry of Gender Equality. The question seems totally inappropriate for a veteran correspondent who should be professional at discerning what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Secondly, to say that going to room salons discourages women in the workplace is jumping to conclusions. The reporter said because men in Korea like to go to room salons after work, that is a discouragement for women in the workplace, and companies decide not to hire women because men like to go out to room salons and hostess bars after work. It is an exaggeration to say that companies do not hire women for that reason. The Confucian tradition has been the main obstacle that puts women into a difficult position. Also, the country’s premature democratization has never helped women. Problems with gender discrimination are complicated and sensitive matters.

However, the situation is getting better. As Choe Sang-hun, correspondent at the International Herald Tribune, recently reported, the Korean government is working to improve attitudes toward women. More women are taking midlevel positions at government agencies, and women outperform men in many professional fields. Korean men are also gradually accepting the fact that women are their equal partners at home and at work. Statistically, the situation might seem disturbing to foreigners who do not fully understand Korean culture and history, but that is all the more reason they should be more careful talking about the issue.

Lastly, as an international reporter, using foul language at a Korean institution deserves harsh criticism. The reporter’s offensive expression was heard by high-ranking officials at the Finance Ministry and all other participants. He debased the officials in the highest echelons of the nation. It is worrisome that there might be potential foreign reporters who would follow the rude act of the WSJ reporter later on. It should never be a precedent.

This incident could have been avoidable, if the environment for foreign reporters in Seoul was more hospitable than it actually is. But they should acknowledge that it is too early for Korea to become a perfect democracy, providing them with full freedom of speech. Korea still needs time to develop, although it is doing a great job. I hope that this case serves as a good opportunity to ease tensions between the Korean government and foreign reporters who are taking Korea to the international stage. I urge the Korean government to do more to create an open and fair environment for both Korean and foreign journalists.

Su-hyun Song, student, Sungkyunkwan University
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