'Coverage of foreigners' that cultivates prejudiceFirst of all, it's not, at the moment, a multicultural society that Korea is creating; it's a multi-ethnic society, wherein the foreigners living here are expected to be a part of Korean culture. One of the more amusing aspects of this is the way in which the media depicts foreigners doing 'Korean things' as a means of validating Korean culture.
With 1,200,000 foreigners living in Korea, Korea is becoming a multicultural society.
However the practice of depicting foreigners negatively in the news continues to recur.
It's also been pointed out that the way foreign crime is portrayed also gives rise to prejudice.
Reporter Eun Jun-su collected materials looking at the problems with coverage of foreigners.
In March, the mother of the executive of a conservative organization was murdered.
Police pointed out as a key suspect a Korean Chinese.
The DNA matched the suspect of a robbery which had occurred earlier in an area where Korean Chinese are concentrated.
Also the Korean Chinese's MO was cited as decisive evidence.
Some media outlets wrote articles based on the contents of the police investigation that they had received.
[Transcript] Yonhap News (March 22): "According to police, on the 10th in Mia-dong, Seoul, the body of a Mrs. Han, whose head had been hit with a blunt object, was found in a store, and the DNA found there matched that of the Korean Chinese suspect in a robbery which took place Ansan in April 2010."
[Transcript] Chosun Ilbo (March 23): "As the areas where the crime(s) took place are areas where foreign workers like Korean Chinese are concentrated, like Ansan or Mia-dong in Seoul, and as the head was struck with a blunt object in a manner characteristic of violent crimes by Korean Chinese, police think the suspect is a Korean Chinese.
However, the suspect caught by police soon after was a Korean male in his 40s.
During the police investigation the man confessed his wrongdoing in the Mia-dong murder and of course the Ansan theft case.
[Transcript] Hanguk Ilbo (March 25): "Some media almost surpass the imagination of detective novels. Only seeing what we want to see and hearing what we want to hear, this incident has once again exposed a twisted part of our society."
Media reports like this focus in particular on violent crime by foreigners from developing countries in places like Asia or Africa.
So let us analyze whether an increase in crime has accompanied the sudden increase in foreigners from these places.
[Transcript] SBS, 8 O'clock News (May 27): "The increase in the number of foreigners living in Korea has also seen a sharp rise in foreign crime."
[Transcript] KBS News at 9 (May 16): "As the number of foreigners in Korea has surpassed 1.2 million people, the crimes committed by them have grown more serious."
However, contrary to media reports, experts say that the crime rate for foreigners living in Korea is not worrying.
In fact, in 2009 the crime rate for all foreigners in Korea was 2% - a crime rate that is half that of Koreans.
[Interview] Angela (Sri Lankan): "Though they're not out for us like that, when black people in particular are presented through the news in this way, it actually creates a difficult situation for us."
On the other hand, migrant women married to Koreans are portrayed as victims of violent crime.
In related articles there is a tendency to emphasize only sensational incidents.
On May 24, a Korean man in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do stabbed his Vietnamese wife to death.
Some newspapers described the murder of the Vietnamese wife in detail.
[Transcript] Kyunghyang Shinmun (May 25, page 11): "This morning at 1:10 am in Cheongdo-gun, Cheongdo-eup, a Mr. Im violently stabbed his Vietnamese wife H to death in his house. The couple were married in April last year and they had a 19 day-old son, H having given birth on May 5.
[Transcript] Donga Ilbo (May 25, page A12): "After committing the crime, Mr. Im ran out and went on foot to the house of a neighbor whose lights were on and yelled I killed a person. Police were dispatched after receiving a report and arrested Mr. Im who was wandering in the vicinity."
However it's difficult to find in depth reports which go beyond simply conveying the incident and look for the root causes or solutions.
Experts say that there is bias in media which focuses on foreigners as the assailants or victims in such incidents.
[Interview] Song Jong-gil (Gyeonggi University professor): "Because of the popularity of foreign countries, because these people are different from us, because of such a view that they are not citizens of our country, reports on incidents related to crime become of great importance..."
In fact, media reports still repeat expressions which reinforce negative perceptions of foreigners.
The way in which foreign illegal sojourners frequently appear in media reports is representative.
[Transcript] Seoul Sinmun (May 2): "Sending [of workers to Korea] from countries [where] many illegal sojourners [come from] halted..."
[Transcript] Yonhap News (April 29): "One in four foreign workers stay illegally after visa expires."
However, it has been pointed out that the expression "illegal sojourner" can be misunderstood as a person who has committed violent crimes like robbery or assault .
For this reason the international community such as the UN advise using the neutral expression 'undocumented foreigner.'
[Interview] Kim Hae-seong (Global Love Sharing representative): "A Foreigner is an illegal sojourner. Then he commits a robbery. He committed a theft, this is how we think of it. So in English you say overstay, meaning someone has exceeded their stay, and undocumented to mean an unregistered sojourner. However the expression 'illegal' can cause a misunderstanding of foreigners as offenders.
There are still many reports which use skin color in a way which reflects prejudice.
In 2002 the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards revised the Korean industrial standard.
The paint and crayon color 'skin color' was changed to 'apricot color'
It was decided that because there are foreigners living in Korea with different skin colors, it could be discriminatory.
However, even now the term 'skin color' continues to appear.
[Transcript] Joongang Ilbo (April 19): "In the photo the blue skin was originally skin color, and the blond hair was originally purple."
[Transcript] Seoul Sinmun (April 29): "The right shoulder and part of the waist show skin color..."
There are not a few expressions reflecting a point of view centered on white people emphasizing a particular race or skin color.
[Transcript] Segye Ilbo (May 16): "The spectacular resurrection of the yellow bullet Liu Xiang..."
[Transcript] Munhwa Ilbo (June 15): "Black pearl Serena has returned."
It has been pointed out that the expression 'mercenary' which alludes to foreign athletes on Korean sports teams treats people as if they're objects to be bought and sold, but in Sports media the term will not go away.
[Transcript] MBC Sports News (March 26): "In the pro volleyball playoffs Samsung Insurance's mercenary Gavin showed superhuman strength."
[Transcript] KBS Sports News (February 7): "Now they've become accustomed to chopsticks and kimchi like Koreans, and are 4 united mercenaries."
Biased expressions like this have received criticism for cultivating a distorted image of foreigners.
[Interview] Song Jong-gil (Gyeonggi University professor): "Foreigners are shown in broadcasts or articles in a disparaging light, and the differences between us and foreigners as a group are shown, and this is seen by youth who accept it at face value. If youth grow, they become more open and international, but with an incorrect result contradictory values could come into conflict.
Surging ahead of our country in the midst of problems with foreigners is Europe.
Europe's media also approaches foreign criminals and victims, and also portrays them negatively.
However, though it has been pointed out that the media encourages conflict with foreigners, active effort is being made to establish a multicultural society.
In Germany public broadcasters report on the diverse cultures of foreigners to help citizens understand them, and in France the hiring of people of color has been strengthened so they can work as reporters or anchors.
Recently in Korea, some broadcasters and newspapers have increased the number of reports and programs designed to establish a multicultural society, but it is difficult to find media reports which calmly analyze the causes of, or suggest solutions to, conflict.
While media reports cultivate a negative bias towards foreigners, there is a need for self reflection as to whether this is an obstacle to establishing a multicultural society.--------------
Not that there's anything wrong with a multi-ethnic society, but you might want to call it what it is instead of pretending to be creating something that seems utterly opposed to Koreans' ideas about their society and culture, simply because it sounds like something an 'advanced country' would do. At the same time, one wonders how much migrant wives are encouraged to share their culture with their own children. But I digress.
It's interesting that the article begins looking at bias against foreigners by looking at Korean Chinese, especially since they're ethnically Korean and not a visible minority (though the line "the head was struck with a blunt object in a manner characteristic of violent crimes by Korean Chinese" is quite a doozy - tell us what you really think, Chosun Ilbo!). It then looks at migrant wives (as victims), who are married to Koreans and the mothers of half-Korean children. So an article about bias against foreigners begins with people who, in some ways, are the least foreign of all, being ethnic Korean or married to Koreans (much in the same way as the NHRCK was prompt in finding a Korean American teacher to be a victim of discrimination for receiving less pay, but dismissed claims of discrimination (in regard to drug and HIV testing) by non-Korean teachers).
Foreign workers from south or southeast Asia are not really looked at specifically, and are perhaps vaguely mentioned only in passing in the discussions of skin color and visa status. Western foreigners are mentioned in the discussion of the term 'mercenary,' but only after prefacing descriptions of a black woman is "black pearl" and a Chinese man as "Yellow bullet" by saying they "reflect a point of view centered on white people."
Yes, the media would never refer to someone as 'white' in pejorative way, now would they?
"From molestation to AIDS threats - Shocking perversion of some English teachers; Beware the 'Ugly White Teacher.'" [Sports Chosun: English Korean]
"White English Teacher Threatens Korean Woman with AIDS."[Chosun Ilbo: Korean English]
Or this 2005 editorial (which I'll post soon) which talks about "Koreans' unconditionally submissive attitude towards white people such as American English instructors."
Nothing to see here, move along.
And while it's nice to see that KBS included one of its own reports in its critique above, I'm sure it could have found more if it tried, such as, say, this one, titled "'Out of Control Foreign English Teacher' Teaches Class while High and Commits Sexual Molestation":
To match the above KBS article, SBS broadcast a negative piece about US soldiers in Itaewon on the fourth of July, which I'm sure was just a coincidence - there couldn't possibly be someone bearing a grudge at SBS, could there?
On the one hand, it's nice to see that this kind of bias in the media is being looked at, and it's also nice to see statistics being used to debunk media stereotypes about foreign crime. On the other, it seems two foreign groups who have often been targets of negative press - soldiers and teachers - were not looked at at all, most likely because of their skin colour (often perceived as 'white') and status as citizens of 'advanced countries.'
I'll look more closely at this form of political correctness found in the Korean media later this week.