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MV Sewol Sinking: Media Reaction

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Communications
Wordcount: 3422 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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2014 is a year with frequent accidents, many of them attracted large attention around the world. Media from different countries follow-up report these events under different views and media policy. The sinking of the MV Sewol is one of the concerned event. It occurred on 16th April 2014, a ferry named “SEWOL” carrying 470 passengers was sank dramatically in the southwest coast of South Korea. Most of passengers are Danwon High School’s students. Lots of passengers rescued by some fisher and merchant ship, South Korean coast guard and ROK Navy ship arrived minutes later. According to the official announce number, by the end of 15th May 2014, 295 people died in the accident and 172 people were injured, the whereabouts of other 9 people are still unknown. The captain and three other crew have been accused of murder, the other 11 crew members are charged to abandoned passengers which lead to people die. Domestic and foreign media gave increasing coverage to the sinking of the MV Sewol event (Asia Bulletin, 2014). It is not clear wrecks cause of the accident, however officials believe that overloading may be the main reason of vessels sinking. Throughout the media coverage about this event, not all of them are objective and authentic, lots of factors such as media policy, national interest, self-censorship, public opinion etc. can influence the media coverage and the representation of journalists. This essay will focus on the sinking of the MV Sewol event to explore and analysis the U.S. and South Korean’s media context of the media policy.

Focusing on this event, not all media are objective, compare with some Korean media, U.S. media are more objective. The obvious reasons are not only media in U.S. have more relative free speech but also any truth cannot influence U.S.’s public interests, national interests or government image.

The United State is a country with democracy and freedom, the news media also has freedom. The first press law is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1971, it stipulates that congress shall not abridging the freedom of speech or of the press (CRS,1971). It strongly protect news media’s freedom. Some major newspaper in South Korea such as The Chosun Ilbo, Munhwa Bangsong Jushikhoesa and JoongAng Ilbo have report lots of inaccuracy information which can mislead readers. For example, at the beginning of the accident MBC report that all students have been rescued (The Chosunilbo, 2014), this parlance sustained nearly half hour. Also, the initial report shows that rescuer rescued 368 people from freezing water and most of are students, but South Korea government clarify that 295 people were missing. In the morning of 17 April, Chosun Ilbo report that 174 people were rescued, 6 people had died and 290 people were missing. Compare with Chosun Ilbo, CNN report that 6 people had died (Hancocks, Shoichet and Pearson, 2014). The JoongAng Ilbo also reported similar inaccurate reports, for example at the beginning of the accident, they report the number of passengers and the number of rescued people which government announced and not verified, it is false report. In the coverage of the number of rescue divers who enter the water, JoongAng Ilbo quote the government announcement that “178 divers participate in the rescue”, it sounds like all 178 divers enter the water to search and rescue the victims at once. However, in fact, the number provide by government mean that 178 divers can participate into the rescue and in general, at the scene of the accident, only around 20 divers go into the water to search and rescue the victim every time(Nam, 2014). It can be seen that some of these South Korea medias are trend to government or controlled by government. In general, the standpoint of Chosum Ilbo is on the conservative side. Bennett deal with press-government relations as “indexing hypothesis” which considered that “reporters index the slant of their coverage to reflect the range of opinions that exist within the government” (Bennett, 1990). This view is one of the function of media. It is a common phenomenon that some media controlled by government and what they express is represent government opinion and what government want people to know. In this case, for this tragedy, media try to reduce the effect of the event in the society. Media always use less obvious expression to mislead readers. It can be understand as “symbolic power”, it is indirect and having the power to induce people and control their minds (Van Dijk, 1995). Through the representations, media can influence large number of people.

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However, lots of people have the ability to judge right from wrong, there are lots of foreign media and some of the local media to lead the correct, mainstream and objective opinion. Focusing on the Sewol tragedy, the main topics are considered about the mass sorrow, why this accident can happened and what should the government and state do to protect and help their citizens. The information that “all passengers have been rescued” reported by various media cause disastrous impact to the public (Sridharan, 2014). Hundreds journalists have gone on strike to protest government control media. Under the pressure from public, the president of South Korea public broadcasting KBS had resigned (Jun, 2014). The South Korea government and their media drew strong condemnation, which necessitate them to do apologize to public and victims and their families. On 16th May, JoongAng Ilbo published an article to do apologize for its false news during the period of Sewol tragedy. After that, criticize government and media controlled by government become the core topic.The Korea Herald published an article named “Sewol disaster reveals failure of mass media as watchdog”, it indicate that media blindly depend on government’s inaccurate announcement (Lee, 2014). The president of the journalists association of South Korea Park Chong Ryul said that reporters should listened to public and report what public want to know instead of government said. He think media should standing on its’ ‘watchdog’ and public role. “Watchdog” is a defined of media in classical liberalism communication theory, media with fair and objective position is a tool that stand for public and help to supervise government behavior. These media didn’t to self-censor themselves and didn’t rely on political correctness to restrict the expression before report which cause disaster effect. The social force lead to the threat to free speech on the campuses which is the underlying logic of political correctness (Loury, 1994). People afraid of ostracism to avoid the candid expression of their views and opinion which are compelled with communal wisdom, it can be known as self-censorship, argued by Loury. The phenomenon that most of media stand on one side to criticize government and its’ media is an example for self-censorship. Once a common concern has been established, it will spread quickly, just as the wave to criticize and censure South Korea government and its media. On the other hand, other media follow up the critical comments are doing the self-censorship and political correctness perfectly. Although U.S. Media always boast their objective and nonpartisan principle, in fact, U.S. news media become the instrument of monopoly capital and consortium of political. They always put the so-called “national interest”, rather than public interests first and build the basic frame of “political correctness”. The partisanship of America media is obviously. For instant, The New York Times and Washington Post are inclined to the Democratic Party of the United States. To coverage the incident of South Korea, they are relative objective. Most of coverage are about the incident without any censure government speech and expression. U.S. media strictly follow the potential limitation: political correctness. It includes U.S. national interests, as a tool of extending national interest, the core mission of U.S. media is to guide audiences accept the standard of U.S. value and regard the U.S. national interest as public interest. It can understand easily, U.S do not want to destroy the South Korea-U.S. Alliance relations. In this case, U.S. Media can only report the objective fact and avoid to accuse South Korea government directly. This is kind of media self-censorship, the basic reason is U.S. national interest.

Nevertheless, on the other aspect, Korean and some local media are focus on criticize the government and its’ media. As an example that the America overseas Korean published an advertisement on New York Times to criticize South Korea government, it states that mainstream media shaping public opinion and report false news deliberately to defense for government. Accuse that Park Geun-hye guide South Korea back to the authoritarian regime. The JoongAng Ilbo coverage this issue not only described the advertisement, but also mentioned that publishing this advertisement cost $160000 U.S. Dollar (Shen and Kim, 2014). This news article also quote the speech of the Saenuri Party who strongly condemn this advertisement. They asserted that these America overseas Korean utilize Sewol tragedy to reach their political purpose, they stressed that mourn over Sewol victims and against the government behavior should be distinguished. The article quote the opinion that such high advertising costs which is better to donate to bereaved family. To analyze JoongAng Ilbo’s coverage, it can be seen that this media is still slant to government. It seems like they coverage the America overseas Korean’s opinion, but in fact they want to tell government’s opinion which induce people to rethink their speech. This article can influence lots of readers’ opinion. As Loury explained about political communication that the transmission of ideas and information about affair of common concern with the purport to form public opinion or influence policy consequence (Loury, 1994). Due to the large number of coverage about the Sewol tragedy and public opinion tendency, it influence the government policy making. According to the coverage of Yonhap on 7th November, South Korea Congress pass by , in order to find out the truth of the incident, taking back the illegal income from criminals and donate to the bereaved family, determining the basic frame about some stuffs which to protect national security (Yonhap, 2014). Government’s policy making should considered about public interest, according to the Down (1962) explanation about public interest, it can be know as “the will of the people”, it is the combination of individual interest which establish a common value. McQuail(1992) defined public interest as informational, cultural and social benefits. In short, public interest is public’s interest, is citizens common interest. The basic opinion of public interest is that the law should reflect and protect public and public interest. The Sewol incident and the failure of the rescue in the Sewol tragedy damaged the public interest, large number of people died, young students stop their life, government lose public reliance. Most media in this incident are trying to emphasize describing the tragic victims and their family to give pressure to government and prompt government make some measure to remedy the damage of public interest, based on the media policy, media should supervise government to protect the public interest. In this case, South Korea government punished abandon captain and crew, passing by the to support victims and their families.

The pressure of government not only come from media but also come from public opinion. Public opinion is an aggregate of individual views, attitude and other beliefs. Public opinion have strong power in many fields. Politician support that public opinion have influence on the development of government policy. In contrast, sociologists state that public opinion is an outcome of social communication. Media and communication is a tool to spread the opinion, when the opinion presented by media, the influence of public opinion has been enlarged (Davison, 2012). In this case, public opinion have more power to influence government policy. On the other hand, media can guide the public opinion, media always provide an opinion to incite mass and guide the public opinion. After the incident, the support rate of Park president declined dramatically, more and more people do not trust their government and suspicious of government’s rescue capabilities. According to the organ of public opinion survey Realmeter, more than 1,000 adults was do the survey, 51.7% interviewees are dissatisfied with Park Geun-hye government, only 41.4% interviewees are satisfied with Park Geun-hye government which is lowest in the history (Chung, 2014). People no long trust their government, they thought that if they were encounter similar incident, their government cannot rescued them. In this case, Park Geun-hye later anthologized publicly for several times, severely punished the abandon captain and crew, government also pass by policies to deal with problems arising from the accident. All of them are certified that public opinion have influence on government policy making. Media as an instrument to convey the public opinion to the government, at the same time, it affects the people’s view about government.

It’s hard to explain the relationship between the South Korean media and politics by using authoritarian or liberalism theory. Analyzing the developing trend, the relations of South Korean politics and media is transforming from authoritarianism to liberalism. In South Korean political-media relations structure, political power is in a strong position. However, under the democracy pressure, political power have to comply with public opinion. Political power gradually tamed by democracy. It can be summarized from the Sowel incident. Moreover, in South Korea, political and capital have different effect on different media in different time. Just like newspaper media under the influence of capital will be more obvious and the TV media is affected by the government. The American media also controlled by interest group, guiding the public opinion that lead to the country’s leader stepping down. The “Watergate scandal” is kind of example. In short, through the analysis of South Korean media coverage and American media coverage about the Sewol tragedy, it can be seen that media restrict by self-censorship and political correctness, at the same time, the expression and representation of media can stand for the will of interest group, it can be controlled by government to lead the trend of public opinion. In this case, media is a double-edged sword, it not only can representative public opinion to influence government policy making, but also can help government lead the public opinion.


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