Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to focus on two Canadians at the expense of 34 Thais

[Update, May 1]

Photo from here.

Yesterday there were 14 articles (such as this one) about the Korea Customs Service and its plans to intensify the control of drugs brought into the country by entertainers, English teachers, and students returning from overseas. These three demographics are not represented in all of the headlines, where entertainers appear 13 times, English teachers appear 11 times, and students returning from overseas appear 5 times.

Every article then mentions that of 225 foreigners arrested for smuggling from 2005 to 2008, 66 (or 29.3%) were native speaking English instructors from countries like America, Canada, and England. The nationalities of the other 70% are not mentioned.

[Original post]

In my last post I looked at drug busts among Thai workers, among other things. My remark that Thais needn't worry about media attention as long as they're arrested with (foreign) English teachers was illustrated with this example in the Korea Times (and Marmot's Hole), which was criticized here. I decided to look more closely at the Korean language reports to see if there was any more information about those arrested than what the Times wrote:
Police arrested two Canadian instructors Thursday for the violation of the Drug Law, while booking a Korean English teacher who had studied abroad and 36 others including Thai migrant workers on the same charges.
What I found was rather interesting.

No Cut News published the first article about the two Canadians who were arrested on April 16 at 9:16 AM. It was titled “Gangnam Elementary School native teachers drug taking prosecution - philopon adulterated with salt sold."*

In it we’re told that Canadian Elementary school English instructor P and hagwon English instructor H were busted for taking drugs and were caught with lots. Then it mentions that H was supplying the drugs, along with Mr. Park, and all three were arrested and detained for taking ecstasy. It also mentions that Yaba dealer Mr. S, a Thai, was one of 40 others booked without detention. More is mentioned about the schools the teachers worked at and that they took ecstasy. It then mentions Mr. Park had sold philopon adulterated with salt in March, and that they all had tested positive for it, but strongly denied using it.

Then, at 10:29, Yonhap published an article, titled "Gyeonggi Police, English teachers drug crime, 39 prosecuted." This time we’re told that P, H and supplier Mr. Park have been arrested for selling and taking drugs, and that Mr. S, the Thai worker, was one of 36 who were booked. It adds that Mr. S was one of 13 illegal Thai workers who were deported. We’re told more about P and H and that from December to February they sold ecstasy in a Samseong-dong club for 70-80,000 won a pill. We’re again told the story of the salt in the philopon, but this time 2 others, including Mr Baek, who were not detained, took part (and they were selling pot too). Mr. S, the Thai seller, had, with others, been selling philopon and yaba to other Thais since last October. 34 Thais were arrested for either selling or taking drugs.

At 11:55 Newsis published an article similar to No Cut News' titled "Drug taking native speaking English instructors prosecuted." It mentioned that 13 illegal workers had been deported.

At 1:13 YTN posted a broadcast with the same title as the above Yonhap article. It began by talking about the English teachers, mentioned the Thais dealing Yaba and philopon and the deportation of the illegal workers, and ended by saying that the police said there may be more drug-dealing and drug-taking foreigners in the capital’s schools and hagwons, and would continue to expand the investigation. Interesting that the focus was on rooting out more teachers like the two they arrested, and not on rooting out more methamphetamine-taking workers, like the thirty four that were booked. I guess YTN ran out of time before they could mention Mr. Park or Mr. Baek and their salt-selling adventures.

At 1:48 Yonhap published a new article titled “Elementary school native speaking English instructor drug use ‘shock.’” This article says that three people had been arrested for selling and taking drugs. But this time, we’re told that only P and H have been detained, and that a Korean English instructor who had studied abroad, Mr. Han, and a Thai worker had been booked without arrest along with 35 others. The article also recounts police statements that the teachers may have taught while high, and talks about them being drawn to the drug because it made the lights of techno clubs in Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae look like laser light shows. The article was covered in more depth at the Marmot’s Hole.

Notice that, moving in the direction of the YTN news video, the Koreans (Mr. Park and Mr. Baek) of the previous article, and now the Thais have disappeared. Mr. Han, another English instructor, has been arrested and is included in Mr. P and Mr. H’s misadventures, which have been greatly expanded and focused on, with much effort being put into describing the purported hallucinatory effects of the drugs they took, as well as trying to make it seem like they could possibly have taught while high (such as, after saying they went out partying on weekends, putting 'Saturday, Sunday' in brackets after the word 'weekend' in order to suggest that they might have gone out on Sunday night and still been high Monday - unless of course Yonhap routinely treats its readers like five-year-olds and explain to them that the weekend means 'Saturday and Sunday.'). The Thai worker makes only one appearance and the other Thais and their deportation goes unmentioned, as does the fact that most of the people arrested were in fact Thai. No mention is made of Mr. Park, who had been one of three people detained in the first Yonhap and No Cut News article.

At 2:06 Asia Today published the second Yonhap article.

At 2:09 the Herald Gyeongje published a short article saying that 3 foreign English teachers, two Koreans, and 34 Thais had been arrested.

At 2:36 Maeil Gyeongje posted its MBN broadcast about the busts, based on the second Yonhap piece, which looked at only Canadian English teachers H and P, and the Korean teacher who had studied abroad.

At 2:47, the Gukmin Ilbo published the second Yonhap article.

At 3:30 No Cut News published a Capital Radio News broadcast which opened with this story using same headline as their 9:15 article. This version of the story made no mention of any Koreans or Thais, discussing only the Canadian English teachers who were arrested.

At 3:58 the Kyunghyang Shinmun published the second Yonhap article.

At 5:04, Yonhap posted a broadcast of ‘Today’s News,’ which included a one minute segment using the headline and much of the text of the second Yonhap article. One difference is that there is no mention of the Thai worker, and the paragraph about the teachers having possibly taught while high was moved to the introduction. It also provided a blurred video of a white teacher in front of a blackboard.

At 5:35, Bizplace published the second Yonhap article.

At 7:29 Maeil Gyeongje reposted its MBN broadcast.

At 9:00, and 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00 AM the next day, Yonhap posted a short 'Today's News' video showing headlines; this time the headline is that of the first Yonhap article.

At 5:48 am on April 17, the Chosun Ilbo published a brief article titled “Drug-taking English-teaching native-speaking instructors.” It reiterates the tale of Canadian English teachers H, P, Mr. Park and Mr. S, telling how the teachers sold ecstasy for 50,000 won a pill in the Samseong-dong club. We’re told Mr. Park sold philopon to a Mr. Kim in the bar near Seolleung station, but no salt is mentioned. For some reason this article sounds closer to the first No Cut News article, and makes no mention of the Korean instructor who studied abroad. Interesting.

So to recap: All of the articles have headlines focusing on the foreign English teachers. No Cut News has the first story telling about them and a Korean dealer selling philopon being detained, and a Thai dealer among 40 others booked. Yonhap expands on this so we have 2 Canadians and one Korean dealer detained, 2 Koreans and 34 Thais booked (13 of those, deported). YTN focuses on the foreigners (Canadians and Thais) but notes that more English teachers will be looked for. Yonhap's second article all but ignores the Thais, the Korean detained dealer disappears, and a Korean English teacher is arrested, with a focus on the English teachers clubbing and possibly teaching while high. This article is published by 4 other papers, while MBN and a No Cut News radio show crib from it and focus only on the English teachers. Yonhap has TV news (YTN?) focusing on the English teachers with no mention of the Thai and an emphasis on the possibility that they taught while high. From 2 Canadians, 3 Koreans and 34 Thais to 2 Canadians and 1 Korean in eight hours. Impressive.

This is especially interesting considering that more Thais have been arrested for drug crimes than any other nationality. According to this article, in 2008, 928 foreigners from 29 countries were booked for drug-related crimes. Of them, 711 (or 76%) were Thai nationals arrested for taking Yaba or selling it to other Thais.

From here.

While many nationalities helped raise the number of drug arrests for foreigners from 73 in 2006 to 299 in 2007 (Chinese, Americans, Canadians and Fillipinos, especially), it seems the spike from 299 to 711 arrests in 2008 is due to many large scale Yaba busts involving Thai workers. (More statistics are here and here).

One thing I wonder about is why the English teachers were detained. Couldn’t they just place a travel ban on them until their trial? Compare the treatment of the two English teachers to the Thais caught taking or selling drugs in Busan last November. As this Chosun Ilbo article points out, of 221 people arrested, 6 were detained and 215 were booked without detention. As this article mentioned of the Thais, "When found guilty of using or selling drugs, illegal migrants are immediately expelled to their home country. Those who stay here legally are sent to a detention center for foreigners and are usually fined." This seems lenient, but I have no idea how different groups are treated for drug crimes in Korea (could foreign workers, even though they're booked and not detained by police, simply be turned over to immigration to sit in a detention center?). This quote from an investigator who "sometimes feel[s] sorry for" the Thais he arrests is interesting: "They don't feel any sense of guilt in using drugs because most of them have experienced drugs in their home country, which is relatively lenient on drug use."

It reminds me of a story from March, when the Hankyoreh reported that a Spanish dancer was arrested for importing and smoking hashish with three castmates from the international musical Don Juan. He was caught when almost 5 grams were intercepted in the mail. The interesting thing was that the dancer was indicted without detention, while the other three were not charged because in Spain, according to the prosecutors, smoking cannabis is not punished. The perception here is that foreign English teachers get the book thrown at them, even for possession, but I'm not sure how true that is. In this case it's clear that the foreign English teachers were the only ones arrested and detained (not including the disappearing Mr. Park) while the illegal workers were quickly deported.

As for why that might be, and why the media (basically Yonhap and YTN (responsible for this look at foreigners in Hongdae), but with No Cut News and Maeil Gyeongjae playing a part) decided to focus on the 2 foreign English teachers instead of the 34 Thais, Robert Koehler may provide some insight (from about 44 minutes into this Seoul Podcast) when he describes "Korean-style political correctness:"
there is, at least within certain segments of the media, the feeling that guest workers, because they’re coming from Asia, because they’re coming from third world countries, are a disadvantaged class, while G.I.s and English teachers are a privileged class because they’re white and coming from western countries.
To be sure, this media treatment doesn't always happen. For example, look at these people who were arrested yesterday. The writer of the article decided the ‘people using websites to learn how to grow marijuana and arrange parties’ angle was more interesting than the fact of one of the six being detained was an American English instructor. The focus on the two Canadians two weeks ago may also be partly because pot busts have happened many times, while ecstasy busts are rarer and more attention-grabbing and easier to sensationalize. On the other hand, it's not like Yaba busts are a particularly run-of-the-mill event in Korea either. Perhaps the Yaba arrests reported on April 16 might have been looked at more critically, instead of being practically erased by the end of the day, if they had happened a week later, after the prosecutors office released statistics showing that Thais made up 76% of all foreign drug arrests. Perhaps not.

Oh, and related to this, in the last post I linked to this article saying that ecstacy is the most popular drug in Korea (among Koreans). I assumed that was wrong; this article tells us that "the number of known drug users in 2007 is 10,649, which is a 38% increase from the 2006 figure of 7,711. Out of that 8,521 were philopon users and 1,170 were marijuana users[.]"

*I'm not sure if that's supposed to be "philopon adulterated with salt" or whether salt was simply sold and said to be philopon.


Ryan Freer said...

I'm curious about the sentences dealt to the 'celebrity' drug users.

The Korea Time article listed a number of celebrities who were caught for using drugs. Did these people do any time? How much time are the ecstacy smugglers likely to do?

More important than headlines targeting teachers would be the knowledge that foreigners weren't being harshly dealt with by judges in comparison with Korean nationals.

Ryan Freer said...

Additionally, while I far from condone the lack of balance reporting regarding English teachers, I can understand why it is more newsworthy than factory workers given the level of respect and status associated with teachers in Korea and ot course the fact that these people are very likely to be in contact with children.

Anonymous said...

Given that workers build things that often are used by children (buildings, food, etc.), I would argue that a drug-addled laborer is potentially much more dangerous than a drug-addled English teacher.

Then again, a soju-addled father is no picnic either. Or a Jesus-addled mother.

kushibo said...

I think Anonymous has a good point about the danger of construction workers who are on drugs.

Popular Gusts wrote:
From 2 Canadians, 3 Koreans and 34 Thais to 2 Canadians and 1 Korean in eight hours. Impressive.

While I concede that Westerners who are arrested for drug crimes often get a lot of press, the meme in the K-blogs that Koreans getting arrested are ignored by the Korean media is just simply false. Of the three, the Korean seller and English teacher was still mentioned, fairly consistently.

And my original point was that there was a big disconnect between the story Marmot had linked (2 foreigners, 1 Korean) and how he had described it being in the Korean press (2 foreigners).

Frankly, unless (a) the foreigners are being falsely accused and/or arrested, (b) Korean drug crimes are not getting reported at all, and/or (c) the details of foreign drug arrests are inaccurately reported, I don't see anything to get upset about.

Korean media focus on Koreans and foreigners when it comes to drug arrests, but they have a stick up their ass about two particular groups: English-teaching Westerners and Korean celebrities. It's part of the package of coming to Korea on an E2, along with the other good and the bad.

Ultimately, if you have a problem with it (not you, PG, but a general "you"), then simply don't take drugs in Korea, don't hang out with people who take drugs, and don't have or allow drugs on your property. It's pretty simple.

I'm not particularly sympathetic to the expat whine that "they're out to get us" when it comes to drug use. For starters, I have yet to hear of a case of someone where someone apparently innocent has been imprisoned or deported for drug crimes.

Second, I know from personal experience that there are drug arrests (major by Korean standards) where it doesn't get in the media at all. This one case in Ch'ŏngju was one where I wanted it in the media but they didn't. I wanted it to be a deterrent because...

... Third, these stories, particularly when they are in the English-language media, are meant to show the English-speaking population that drug crimes are clearly not tolerated and can be harshly punished. That's a big part of the whole judicial process and subsequent punishment: deter future crime. If they weren't reporting on this stuff, that would be truly alarming.

matt said...

I don't have any information on entertainers and their sentences. Another prominent entertainer was arrested for smoking pot in 1994, but I have no idea what happened to him (he certainly continued to make movies without a break. Another problem is that unless it's a prominent case, it seems to me the Korean media report more on arrests than on convictions (and someone I know who was doing research told me that arrest records were the only records the prosecutor's office would release).

I think you really need to go back and look at the Marmot's post and the original article and compare them. The only difference that I see is in the title: "Two Canadians Arrested for Drugs, May Have Taught While High" vs "초등교 원어민 영어강사 마약 투약 '충격'." Both titles mention only the foreign teachers; the Marmot just says how many and where they're from, and describes exactly what the 'drug taking shock' is. Otherwise, both point out that a Korean English teacher was also arrested, and he is included in the rest of the story ("Our Canadian friends — aged 34 and 29 — and the Korean English teacher taught at...") and "teachers" - plural - is used throughout the post and implies the Korean teacher is included as well (just like '이들은' in the Yonhap article).

Of the three, the Korean seller and English teacher was still mentioned, fairly consistently.

Not really. The Korean seller in the earlier articles is Mr. Park (38), and he's among the total of 3 people reported detained (including the English teachers). Starting with the second Yonhap article, Mr. Park seems to disappear, as there are only the 2 people reported detained (the Canadians), and Mr. Han (30), the Korean English teacher, is reported as one of those booked without detention and is included in the Canadians' misadventures. Not so consistent, really (though the number of people in total who were booked remains 39). Perhaps new information came to light in the middle of the investigation.

Korean media focus on Koreans and foreigners when it comes to drug arrests, but they have a stick up their ass about two particular groups: English-teaching Westerners and Korean celebrities.

Good point. Yesterday there were many articles (such as this one) about the Korea Customs Service and its plans to intensify the control of drugs brought into the country by entertainers, English teachers, and students returning from overseas. Every article then mentioned that of 225 foreigners arrested for smuggling from 2005 to 2008, 66 (or 29.3%) were native speaking English instructors. The nationalities of the other 70% are not mentioned. This is not something I'm 'whining' about; it just strikes me as lazy journalism. Wasn't anyone curious about who these other drug smugglers might be? Seeing as they're likely all from Asian countries, perhaps the 'Korean political correctness' that Robert described is at work? I have no idea.