Producing our own English news

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Producing our own English news



Chae In-taek

The author is a senior writer on international affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The first batch of K9 Thunder Self-propelled Howitzers headed for Poland under a $2.4 billion first phase arms export deal signed in late July was shipped from Hanwha Defense’s production site in Changwon, South Gyeongsang, on Oct. 19. The shipment ceremony was denied VIP guests, Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak, because Błaszczak’s plane’s passage through Chinese skies was denied by Beijing. Instead of coming to Korea, he held a video conference with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop.

The incident was not covered by foreign media like the BBC or CNN. Without an English news channel, South Korea was unable to hype it in a way that it got into the international news. Although commanding the world’s 10th largest GDP, South Korea remains on the periphery of the global media market.

Media influence can be as powerful as a government’s diplomatic prowess. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) U.S. President Joe Biden signed in August discriminates against electric vehicles produced in Korea and Europe as they are exempted from a consumer tax credit. But English news representing Korean interests to persuade U.S. lawmakers and voters is lacking.

The government and business community have sought fixes to the law by sending delegations and making arguments through various channels. But the U.S. failed to make amends. Despite all the talk from U.S. officials on understanding Korean complaints, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday simply said, “The legislation is what it is,” although she certainly heard concerns about the law from South Korea and Europe.

If South Korea had an influential 24-hour English news channel, some of the voices about the damage to Korean industry and the impact on the Korea-U.S. relationship could have reached the ears of the U.S. administration, Congress, and the public.

Such a news channel — whether it is under public or private ownership — could have performed a diplomatic role for the country. The news can report on issues a government cannot explicitly deal with. On Saturday, Berlin drew the largest rally in support of protests in Iran after the death of a young woman in custody for allegedly wearing her headscarf, or hijab, too loosely. The rally was reported expansively by German public broadcaster DW and Euronews headquartered in Lyon, France. Media organizations have spoke up on the rights of human freedom. European governments struggling with an energy crisis after Russia cut off gas cannot freely express themselves ahead of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Jcpoa) talks on a nuclear agreement with Iran, an oil producer, but free media compensates the role to uphold democracy values.

Al Jazeera, an Arabic broadcaster running a 24/7 English news channel since November 2006, has become a soft power for Qatar and the Middle East through its dispatch of news from an Islamic perspective. France also has been operating a multi-language broadcast channel since December 2006.

The English news channel was opened based on understanding of the need for a global media outlet by French leaders. In 1987, prime minister Jacques Chirac argued for the need for English news delivered from the French perspective to challenge an English media dominating international news. The initiative gained traction after former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin’s address at the UN General Assembly in February 2003 speaking against the U.S.-led Afghanistan and Iraq wars received no mentions by U.S. media like CNN, Fox and MSNBC although his speech drew a standing ovation.

South Korea must build up its direct global influence. An English news channel would report on the IRA and Chinese recriminations when they impact Korea’s interests. The government must establish and groom a 24-hour English news channel to protect the interests and livelihood of South Koreans. We must read international affairs through our perspective and share it together with a global audience.

Korea can challenge the global media. We cannot rely entirely on foreign media to tout Korean interests and achievements.

The Ukraine war has caused a media faceoff between Western media and Russian media. It expands on the so-called Gerasimov doctrine, named after General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, who claimed that in modern warfare, media-led propaganda and non-military activities are important. Hybrid warfare has been going on despite the struggles of Russia in Ukraine.

In the same vein, China and North Korea have been saber-rattling and threatening neighboring countries and the U.S. through their missiles and nuclear weapons. An around-the-clock English news channel is essential to deliver the real situation of the Korean peninsula and the voices of the people and government. Such an agenda should be studied by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.
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