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Korea’s News Reporting Exposed by Taliban

Posted September. 04, 2007 07:45,   

한국어

The kidnapping of South Koreans by the Taliban has left much work to do for Korea’s journalists.

Though the kidnapping of 23 Koreans was an unprecedented case, the Korean media, including this newspaper, had to base most of their reports on reporting by foreign media outlets. This is why the Korean press released reports as quoted without checking facts and was sometimes fooled by media plays by the Taliban militant.

Here are some problems of Korea’s media reports in relation to the kidnapping case.

Structural limits that produced false reports-

The South Korean government put in a request to the Afghanistan government to suspend visa issuances and designating the country as a restricted area for traveling. During the hostage crisis, the Korean media had to be heavily dependent on foreign news reports as reporters were banned from access.

In particular, foreign news reports, which had sent mixed messages at the beginning of the kidnapping, and the difficulty coordinating time differences between here and Afghanistan resulted in erroneous reports. A prime example is the report on the release of eight hostages.

To solve such problems, this newspaper and others tried to indirectly cover stories by hiring stringers in the region who were proven to be reliable, and through on-spot sources. However, those sources also had difficulty catching the movement of the Taliban accurately. To be fair, Korean reporters could not cover stories as fully as they wanted even if they were allowed to be in Afghanistan.

Propaganda and media reports-

This case occurred amid the civil war between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That is why the media were influenced by the propaganda war between the two sides.

The Afghan government emphasized the immorality and cruelty of the Taliban, while its counterpart wanted to show the incompetence of the government. This was the root of the false report: “Time for Negotiations Can Be Put Off,” which was a way for the Afghan government to show off, and, “Rescue mission for hostages,” which was a way to threaten the Taliban.

The Taliban fueled competition for interviewing hostages among media outlets both at home and abroad. After America’s CBS released the voices of the hostages for the first time, the voices of the hostages were aired one after another. However, upon being freed, the hostages said, “We had to do what the Taliban forced us to do.” That suggests that media outlets were used as psychological warfare tools of the Taliban.

What journalists have to do-

The Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan provided considerable lessons for the Korean media.

First of all, regarding the kidnapping of our countrymen, we should take a page from the foreign media. A German was also snatched by the Taliban but the Germans barely published reports except proven facts. The cautious reporting and efforts to confirm facts are something that the Korean press, which was embroiled in the competition for breaking news, has to consider seriously.

In addition, there should be guidelines for reports so that the media will not be exploited by terrorist propaganda. Advanced media outlets such as the AP and BBC have inside guidelines like “Do not give money to the kidnappers in return for access to hostages” and “Exercise self-control in releasing reports which could be used for the purpose of the kidnappers or could endanger the hostages.” Such rules are no longer someone else’s business.



spear@donga.com