Sunday, June 3, 2012

Foreigners

Hi, I'm Stephane. I live in Seoul and I'm from Africa, just like any other Seoulite, just like any other human being.

My passport says that I'm French, and that's also true. If I were an American citizen, I guess my blue eyes and my facial features would have census officers tick the "Caucasian" box, but in France like in Germany, keeping any kind of race-related record has been illegal ever since the Nazi Occupation. I can't think of any nation that ever succeeded in completely eradicating discriminations and racism (certainly not France), but in most democracies, incitement to ethnic or racial hatred is a crime.

Over the past few days, Seoul's international community has been taken aback by "The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners" a sensationalistic program recently aired by MBC, one of Korea's top broadcasters. Radiating xenophobia, this short video uses classic propaganda techniques to depict all Foreigners as sexual predators abusing Korean women:



In spite of a legitimate uproar (but without much pressure from fellow mainstream Korean media), MBC executives refused to apologize, claiming this program had been outsourced. So to a major injury to journalistic ethics, they added an insult to editorial ethics.

Note that MBC has already been on damage control mode for years: PD Diary controversies, nomination of a(n also) controversial president (KIM Jae-chul), months of strike... such is the shocking reality about Korean politics. Somehow, the absence of political debate and the inaudibility of moderates from all sides paves the way for pervasive disinformation and corruption.

Let's be very clear:

- This caricature of a program is by no means Korea. It's an insult to Korean values even more than to media ethics, not to mention, of course, to Koreans and to 'foreigners'. Hopefully, moderates are speaking up online* where, in contrast with MBC's negative video, hundreds of positive messages keep piling up, exposing the shocking reality: mixed families living happily in a welcoming nation.

- Yes, this is not the first incident in that vein, but Korean authorities are already investing in public awareness and pedagogy (tolerance, mutual understanding and mutual respect in a multicultural society), in order to prepare the former Hermit Kingdom and new global player for the major demographic challenges ahead**. MBC's video will certainly be a hot topic at the special 2012 Seoul Town Meeting held on Saturday 9.

- If MBC deserves blame and should apologize, we should at the same time praise Korean media when they do the right thing. I have in mind a front page article by the Chosun Ilbo, a couple of weeks ago, denouncing the contradictions of Korean media when they, at the same time if not in the same breath, boasted about the nomination of a Korean-American as the head of the World Bank (Jim Yong KIM), and lambasted the first 'foreign' members of the parliament (Jasmine LEE)***. Over the past months, the Chosun Ilbo has taken a stand for other just causes through long and well searched campaigns, for instance against bullying at school, or more recently against the culture of permissivity for drunkenness (considered an extenuating circumstance even in the most odious crimes). Promoting fairness in the media and praising fair campaigns is another way of exposing all wrongdoings, and it shows the right direction.

- Such regrettable incidents are not specific to Korea. Yes, even here, we might be witnessing a classic "us vs them" imposture: some pseudo-nationalist hatemongers could try to feed their war on Korean democracy by creating a fake "Foreigners vs Koreans" debate. We've already seen them play ping pong with fellow hatemongers in Japan****, and nationalism sells well in times of crisis... I wouldn't be surprised if they slammed as "un-Korean" any Korean media denouncing their imposture...

Here are the actual 'foreigners': an infinitesimal clique of impostors who, from the inside, are trying to estrange Koreans from themselves, spreading confusion, ignorance, and misunderstanding, fueling hatred, in the opposite direction to the nation's Confucian values and peaceful traditions.

To expose these impostors, Korea keeps repeating, every day, the same evidence: love is the answer.

From and to Korea, with love,

Stephane

Seoul Village 2012
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* most notably in the fast growing Facebook group "Action against MBC Korea and their racist, biased "reporting.""
** see for instance: "In 2050, almost 10% of Korea's population will not be Korean"
*** "Korean Xenophobia Betrays Double Standards"
**** I won't list again all the posts, but quote myself nonetheless (that was about the 1000th demonstration of Korean victims of sexual slavery, where I sent back to back ultranationalists from both countries): "This is not about nationalism, and this is certainly not about Korea vs Japan, but about Japan vs Justice, and about Japan vs its own future. Crimes were committed and victims simply expect justice. Japan must face history in order to face the future, and its leaders cannot hide the truth to Japanese citizens any longer. I've said the same thing about other issues: this is also about saving Japan. And if I joined the protesters, it's also because I love Japan and because I can't accept to see a minority of die hard ultra-conservatives setting a corrupt agenda and betraying the Japanese people. And to Korean ultra-nationalists who try to hijack this case for their own corrupt agenda, I say: clean your own mess first, and restore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission". Now this is about Korea vs its own future. To be future-proof, Korea must face its own past, and denounce those who try to conceal it (see "Truth and Reconciliation - Justice at last"). Education is as always key for the future, and I'm very distressed to see History losing ground in Korean schools ("History Loses Place in School Curriculum").

8 comments:

  1. Stephane - Help me out here. I'm not really seeing what's so offensive about that feature on 시시각각. It's an investigative program that goes out looking for problems to report on. They spend most of their time talking about bad stuff in Korean society but this time they drove down to Itaewon and reported that some foreigners are doing the same stuff that some foreigners have been doing down there for decades. OK, so what? Why do they have to apologize for that? Granted, they were looking for negative stuff to talk about, but what's the big deal? That's what that program's about. Why should it bother me that they're reporting about this?

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  2. Hello Steven
    I would fully agree with a journalistic investigation on the issue, but that's not the case.
    This reaches beyond tabloid trash.
    The way foreigners are stigmatized echoes the worst moments in the history, and I'm talking Godwin point stuff.
    This is the kind of propaganda that is meant to progressively change the way people look at you, and at the ones you love.
    It's not only the foreigners who are insulted, but the Korean people who love them, and all the people who love Korea as it is: respectful and full of love.
    Look at all the testimonies over the web.
    All the best

    ReplyDelete
  3. Stephane - You're a person whose opinions I respect but after watching the report several times, I still completely disagree with you and all the others who are overreacting to this. No doubt, reports like this would be a part of a coordinated propaganda campaign against foreigners, if one existed, but the ridiculous hysteria of thousands of people to this one story is evidence of how rare these reports are. I doubt many foreigners in Korea would have seen this show in its original time slot on TV anyway, or are watching the many (yes, many!) stories on Korean TV today depicting wholesome international families and relationships in Korea. The reaction to this story seems to betray a position among many that negative reports about foreigners in Korea should be off-limits. On the other hand, you and I both know that some foreigners indeed come to Korea and live the way this report depicts and it seems to be a legitimate subject for a story without expat cyberspace erupting in righteous indignation over it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Steven. I agree with your points and again:
    - denouncing bad behaviors of certain foreigners is perfectly OK.
    - this provocation is an infinitesimal occurence in a sea of love.
    - reactions can also feed the negative dynamics

    But there should be zero tolerance for hatemongers. Particularly since these are pivotal times for Korea's future.

    Here, foreigners are not the actual target.

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  5. Clearly this program is of extremely poor quality. There have been programs like it run in years past. With so much attention from netizens this time they're sure to keep on running more like it. It should just be discarded like the trash it is.

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  6. Hello Chris

    In very deed, provocators got all the attention they wanted.

    But that's a classic: exposing the imposture requires some kind of spotlight.

    I'm afraid we're witnessing a textbook operation (trial balloon, propaganda, wedge strategy...) in the asymmetric war against Korean society in general.

    Foreigners are not the actual target. It is essential that local mainstream media do their job as well, and use their own spots to expose this fake debate, this 'us vs them' imposture.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Stephane - This article in today's 중앙일보 discusses the MBC story in a way you'll appreciate: http://pdf.joinsmsn.com/article/pdf_article_prv.asp?id=DY01201206080185

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you Steven.
    I'm very happy that mainstream media take the high road.
    Foreign press also reacted (WSJ in the US, Le Point in France)

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for your comments and remarks. Also for your patience (comments are moderated and are not published right away - only way to curb the spam, sorry). S.

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