[KS] Comparing media coverage in Korea and Europe

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Sun May 10 08:17:59 EDT 2009

George Katsiaficas wrote:
>I lived in divided Germany for
>eight years, yet I have never witnessed such distorted coverage as I have
>seen regarding North Korea.

But that is a very questionable comparison. Both 
German states were sitting in a glass house. In 
WEST Germany we used to watch Italo Western or 
Czech children programs in East German TV, or 
change West German money with friends in East 
Berlin (for black market rates) to buy books or 
art in the East. And East Germans closely 
followed the lives of J.R. and Bobby in Dallas 
while watching West German TV -- often also got 
their info about what happened in their own state 
from West German media. There were lively 
exchanges in pretty much all areas of life 
between East and West, personal contacts -- 
day-to-day contacts, trade contacts, cultural 
contacts of all sorts, academic exchanges, and 
both sides even acted as a kind of corrective to 
each other -- there always was another view, an 
alternative system (maybe hardly acceptable 
alternatives, but still...). Germany never 
experienced a civil war, and West Germany never 
had to go through the kind of authoritarian rule 
that South Korea went through under Park 
Chung-hee, was never so isolated from its direct 
neighbors. But you know all this in as much 
detail as I do.

One of my favorite anecdotes is a visit with 
Professor Ingeborg Göthel, then Korean history 
Professor in EAST Berlin, at one of the large 
first class hotels in Seoul -- to meet someone 
from the Korean History Compilation Committee 
there. That was during the Asian Games when 
Korean security forces "tested out" their 
security measures for the upcoming Olympic Games. 
We both went in together and because of the 
special timing had to show our passports .... 
well, East and West German passports really 
looked QUITE different! The officer looked and 
both passports and just stumbled "togil?" 
(Germany?), and let us in without asking any 
further question. The idea that we could possibly 
be from different German states was at the time 
just completely unimaginable to him.

>Obvious explanations for the distortions here include the conservative
>ownership of major media

That is certainly one of the main reasons. And 
then, in 20 years, not even 20 years, and with a 
colonial and then some sort of semi-colonial 
history, it is certainly not too easy to develop 
a truly free press. And South Koreans have no 
other direct *experience* with other socialists 
countries (same as North Americans) -- other than 
China, and that also only since a relatively 
short period. This is a very different situation 
from Europe. Wouldn't it make more sense to 
compare South Korea with e.g. Taiwan or 
Singapore? (But comparing such issues is very 
problematic in any case.)


Frank Hoffmann

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