Kwon Tae-Sun, managing editor of 'Hankyoreh', talks to Satya Sivaraman about how the newspaper tries to challenge the traditional ways of coverage, the challenges posed by the Internet, and being a rare species: a woman editor-in-chief. This interview was done as part of the Asia Media Forum (www.asiamediaforum.org)
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing 'Hankyoreh' on its 18th year of publication?
A: There is a general decrease in the credibility of newspapers in Korea today. In 1988, our newspaper was established by dissident journalists and the general public. At that time there were many newspapers - all serving the interests of the owners - mostly 'chaebol' or big business houses. They used the media to increase their money or their power. Many people felt that the media did not reflect their views and as a result, our paper was established. People donated money to start our newspaper because dictators were oppressing the country and they wanted us to fight for freedom.
After democratisation, there has been a clash between those who supported the freedom of the press and those who cooperated with the dictatorial regime in the past. This is reflected in the media in terms of sharp criticism between these two groups. Many ordinary people are getting tired with this debate and think that both sections are very biased. Hence, there is an overall loss of credibility of newspapers in Korea.
The younger generation does not want to read newspapers but connects to the Internet instead. As a result, we have also suffered a drop in readership. The Internet has emerged as the biggest challenge to our future.
Q: How is 'Hankyoreh' different from other newspapers?
A: We have a different perspective from other Korean newspapers on many issues. For example, major newspapers in Korea talk of the Vietnam War period as one where Korea took off economically. But we said we were the mercenaries of the United States and caused great sorrow to the Vietnamese people. We ran a campaign for Korea to apologise to the Vietnamese people and established a 'peace park' in Vietnam.
We have also resisted the trend of infotainment that is prevalent today. We are a quality paper. We deal with subjects sincerely and try to inform the public about international affairs correctly. We publish only 500,000 copies but our influence is much bigger than that because we are not commercialised.
Q: How do you balance the usual conflict between the editorial and advertising/marketing sections of the newspaper?
A: I do have a responsibility to sustain our newspaper financially. But when our advertising department asks us to go soft on some issues or in our coverage of conglomerates and so on, I remind them of the history of the newspaper and the principles on which it was founded. In some minor cases, we do accommodate such requests. Financial viability is indeed a big challenge but our colleagues do not ask for much money. They believe that their honour is more important than money.
Q: As a woman journalist in Korea, do you feel discriminated against?
A: As a reporter of 'Hankyoreh', I did not feel any discrimination. In general, however, it is difficult as a woman journalist to deal with higher authorities. Female journalists are a minority. Only 20 percent of our newspaper staff is female. In my generation of journalists, the percentage of women is even lower. When I meet colleagues in the same position from other newspapers, I find they are all male. All news sources are generally male and the strong cultural bias in our society makes it very difficult for female journalists to work.
Q: What is the main focus of 'Hankyoreh' in its reportage now?
A: Peace is our main focus. We need peace between the two Koreas and in the Asian region. Korea is a small country compared to Japan, Russia and China, so we try to make peace with everybody. We are also focusing on the need to overcome the disparity between haves and have-nots. This is a severe problem after globalisation, with more and more people becoming poorer. 'Hankyoreh' is also generating more awareness in Korea about issues regarding gender and minorities of different kinds.
Q: How do you look at the growing influx and influence of foreign media in Asia?
A: I think that it is a great challenge because the monopolisation of opinion is very dangerous. 'Murdochisation' in the United Kingdom for example has made newspapers like the Times very trivial in their content and coverage. This is not good for people. Again in Italy, Berlusconi's domination of the media has pushed the entire society to the right. (END/IPS Asia-Pacific/Asia Media Forum/0706)