Calm, accurate reporting neededWhen the BBC proposed to transmit daily radio broadcasts to North Korea this month, the Scottish government’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said that the national British broadcaster cared more about North Korea than Scotland.
The BBC suggested in a report that broadcasting news programs translated into Korean could boost democracy, although a lack of funding and political will from the UK government means this idea is unlikely to go ahead.
As a Scot living in Seoul, less than 40 miles from the North Korean border, I am more concerned about news “from” North Korea than news going “to” it.
Living near what the Western media calls a “rogue nuclear state,” one lives with more tension than anything experienced in the UK. You never know when bad headlines may come. The sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeongpyeong Island or the maiming of South Korean soldiers near the border this summer are lamented by news readers in Korea and around the world.
And North Korea’s nuclear ambitions make for scary headlines. “North Korea ready to use Nukes any time”, “How dangerous is it living near the DMZ?”, “Will North Korea draw down troops on the border?” and “Korean war is the ‘War with no end’,” are just some of the headlines on the CNN website this week.
And the more doubt there is about North Korea, the more I can be sure of a worried call from my father. Nothing makes him reach for his wallet quicker than an overblown threat from Kim Jong Un. The recent tension after the terrible maiming of South Korean soldiers was no exception. “Are you alright? Do you need me to book your flight back home?” he’d ask.
But my own surprise on arriving in Korea was how little daily life is affected by the constant threats. No matter how much “saber rattling” North Korea does, I have never felt seriously worried for my own safety in Seoul. MERS caused more disruption to everyday lives here this year than North Korea did. But reading the headlines, my family and friends sometimes think we must all be cowering in bomb shelters when we are really going to the bank, meeting friends for coffee, and living our normal daily lives.
Why do foreign news readers get this impression?
News website www.NKNews.org has pointed out that North Korea gains much more news coverage than other countries of its size. And since Western journalists have little expertise, language ability, contacts or time to fact check stories on the country carefully, this means sensationalized, mistaken or even false stories appear. For example, the outlandish story that Jong Un had assassinated his uncle by feeding him to a pack of wild dogs was reported widely in Western media as fact. Some checking would have quickly revealed this rumor as a joke started on a Chinese website.
I think when South Korean readers see articles about Pyongyang threatening to destroy enemies in a “rain of fire” they swipe to the next article on their smartphones and get on with their day. They know this rhetoric well, and know that this is nothing new. For Western readers less familiar with the North’s overblown threats, it is easier to take headlines like these seriously.
An American friend visiting recently messaged me worriedly on his way to Incheon Airport. A “warning” had suddenly played over the limousine bus radio and on his phone in Korean. Was it an alert of North Korean activity? Google translate revealed it was informing drivers about fog.
I had to giggle, but I don’t blame him for being jumpy.
As North Korea prepares for another rocket launch, the media should monitor the situation carefully - but I urge Western media not to overblow the situation and to stick to the facts - my dad’s stress levels are at risk.
*The author is a graduate from Ewha Womans’ University.
by Kirsty Taylor