Journalists should remeber their essential duty such as enough coverage and try to have a positive impact on society. Also, there are lots of qualities that are required of them.
/Illustrated by Cho Moon-kyung
Last August, the Committee on the Rights of the Recipients of Yonhap News Agency (YNA) made the following criticism, “The YNA did not have any facts confirmed in a criticizing report on the cost of accommodation during the holiday season in Gangneung, for being too expensive.” They pointed out that there was a lack of coverage. Also, the KBS program “Journalism Talk Show,” reproached YNA for reporting press releases on the Gangneung website without sufficient verification. The actions of YNA led uncovered information to be spread by various other media outlets.
Meanwhile, headlines were made recently when a media outlet used a “forensic technique,” which restores the private and deleted messages. Also, they shared these massages of Korean celebrities who are going through a divorce. Considering these cases, we need to contemplate of the roles of journalists in contemporary Korean society.
The identity and origin of journalists
The dictionary definition of "journalist" is someone who is engaged in the work of newspaper or magazine. It also refers to editors and contributors. Journalists are generally regarded as people who work in the press. As such, the journalist is a person who has expertise and communicates information through coverage.
Originally, journalists emerged for economic and commercial purposes. The first media phenomenon appeared in the Roman era. The first journalists were called “Sano,” who were slaves at that time, in that they acquired and collected information. They received payment from the nobility for the information. As the phenomenon continued, there was a culture in which merchants and traders of the period shared information for accumulation of wealth. Since then, the appearance of newspaper sharing letters between individuals has emerged. As such, a letter-type newspaper began to appear.
As time went by, journalists began to act as watchdogs of power. This is because newspapers gradually began to highlight corruption in both governments and religious organizations. They also began to criticize the increment of government’s power. As a result, the government began to oppress and sanction the media by raising the prices of newspapers, enforcing a stamp duty and so forth.
In response, journalists and people began to strive for freedom of press publishing. As the government’s interference intensified, the “Honorary Revolution” and the “French Revolution” occurred. These could be regarded as representative of the struggle to promote civil liberties. As such, people have made efforts for freedom of publication in the past.
Currently, journalists are not completely independent of the advertisers of media and the government. Therefore, they are losing its essence which was originally based on the idea of a citizen fighting for society.
The qualities a journalist should possess
Journalists should act as monitors for those in power. They should be able to influence the nation and society. Also, they should affect directly to the lives of citizens. Furthermore, they must act as messengers on behalf of weak people and monitor whether the government is working for citizens or their own benefit. In other words, they should be on the side of the public, not on the side of the powerful such as politicians, and exert influence on society. Journalists have a mission to work for equality and for the freedom of society.
They also have to convey information to people. Conveying the correct information is required to journalists. In the process, sufficient time and effort should be invested. Besides, citizens have the right to know about the happenings that are currently important in their society. Therefore, journalists should try to satisfy the public’s “right to know.” In the process, they should not distort information or communicate false information. Also, it is necessary to convey a variety of information on the society.
Meanwhile, journalists must always have a moral sense too. Journalists should protect their sources when they tell the news of society. Also, when reporting, they should try to protect the privacy of those involved. There is a duty to write articles with moral judgment.
They are now focusing on commercial and sensational reporting in Korean society
Journalists in Korea are now focusing on commercial and sensational reporting. They are trying to increase the number of clicks per article, which is important to attract advertisers. If people enter a popular Korean portal site, they can easily find articles with sensational vocabulary or curious titles which attract readers’ attention. For instance, the “Burning Sun” incident, which was a hot topic in Korean society, required journalists to cover the issue in-depth and focus more on the nature of the problem such as the relationship between criminal organizations and the police. However, they wrote many articles that obscured the nature of the problem, focusing on the criminal behaviour of celebrities. Also, the current lack of journalists’ independence from the government has led to articles that only focus on celebrity-related interests as much as possible and do not focus on the public power-related aspect of the Burning Sun case. In the end, there was no sufficient coverage of the connection between criminal gangs and police. Considering this, Korean journalists are not maintaining their independence but are focusing on commercial reporting, which shows they are not doing enough to play the role of a watchdog.
Lee So-jeong, the Junior of the Media Communication, said “The issue of Burning Sun first arised because of the collusive ties between the police and the club. However, it was concluded in the way that no precise investigation was made.” She criticized, “So, rather than feeling that something has been solved, I think the key issue has been hided.” She also added, “It is regrettable that the privacy issues of celebrities are not just about their privacy but also about their crimes. However, they are not focused with the collusive issues in parallel, instead they are overly covered to the point of alienating the public from the collusive issues. It had not been covered in depth.” She emphasized, “From the public’s point of view, I think the press, which is supposed to be responsible for conveying social injustice, may have lost some credibility.”
It is necessary to have sufficient coverage
Meanwhile, Korean journalists are currently not performing their role as informants. They are not giving enough coverage to important stories. For example, a journalist at the time of the "Sewol ferry disaster" in Korea reported in the article that all of the victims had been rescued without sufficient coverage of press. At the time, they believe in the words of an unspecified number of people. Since then, many media outlets have spread misinformation to make faster report than others without doing sufficient verification. This created confusion in the rescue process and added more confusion to society. Also, as mentioned above, the YNA reported without sufficient fact-checking, referring only to the press release in the case that is concerning the cost of lodging in Gangneung during vacation period. In other words, they have been criticized for their information, which was almost copied exactly from the press release.
Furthermore, it is also a problem that articles in Korean media are all focusing on similar items right now. This can be attributed to the structure of news agencies’ distribution of articles. Korea has news agencies such as YNA and Newsis. At present in Korea, affiliated media companies report the news and news agencies provide basic news. However, with more media outlets reporting the same news by changing only some words and reporting without sufficient investigation, Korean media articles are becoming very similar. In fact, almost all the articles posted on Korea’s famous portal sites are of the same content. On the site, articles are plastered with items that have hot topics, and the expressions are the only different things in the articles. Also, the focus of the articles is virtually the same.
Lee So-jeong said, “Nowadays, when I enter to the portal site such as ‘NAVER,’ the articles all deal with the same subject, so it is hard to get a variety of information.” She referred, “Sometimes, the flow of articles is the same, so I am often embarrassed.”
It is hard to find moral conscience through the journalists recently
Finally, many journalists in Korea are lack of moral conscience. They currently lack respect for individual privacy. For instance, when the divorce of celebrities made headlines Dispatch, which is a famous media outlet, released the contents of messages using the “Forensic technique.” The technique restores all deleted text messages, which makes the couple’s personal life be known to the public and made their text messages available on the Internet. That is, even if one side allowed the disclosure of the text, it is a serious violation of privacy to publish the text messages on the internet without both sides’ agreement. Considering this, journalists must protect their sources, and even celebrities should be guaranteed their human rights.
As such, some people criticized that journalists in Korea now forget their essential duty and become corrupt. In the future, they should not forget the duty of journalists and try to have a positive impact on society. Jang Ha-yong, the Professor of the Media Communication said, “As media industry competition intensifies, the situation of journalists driven into survival problems, and commercialization of large and small Internet media will be problematic.” He emphasized, “However, not every media outlet needs to be held accountable as a power watchdog.” He added, “Communication and professional media should be more focused on accurate and rapid delivery of facts. In that sense, depending on the nature of the media, the various contents will be required.” In other words, the journalist of both professional and public media should try to identify current problems and play the right media role.
Cho Moon-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org
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