Wednesday, December 27, 2006

postal scrotum: Max on crime

This is, I think, more properly a Marmot's Hole type of question, but Max did me the honor of asking me to stick this on my blog, so...

Hi Kevin,

Something has been nagging at me for a while since I came to Japan.

Maybe you can publish this email on your blog with an appeal to Koreabloggers (and yourself) to answer my question.

My beef has to do with reporting of violent crime in English-language newspapers printed in Korea. Although I have read The Korea Times and The Korea Herald on many an occasion, I can't remember having read about the various rapes and murders and other violent crime that must have occurred in Korea, as they invariably occur in any country. When in Korea, I remember my friends told me about murders they saw on the Korean-language TV news. But I can't for the life of me remember violent crime being reported in the English print media.

Not that I especially want to read about murders. But why the absence of headlines?

When I read The Japan Times, however, I see plenty of news about murders and rapes. It's often on the front pages.

To back up my point, check out this search of The Korea Herald website. The search terms were Murder Korea.


No national results on the first page!

Now check out this search of The Japan Times website. The search terms were Murder Japan. (Sorry for excruciatingly long link ahead.)*


Look at all the bloody results you get for national crimes!

What is going on here? Does the Korean media censor the English newspapers in order to present a favorable image of Korea to foreigners (my theory)? Can you shed some light on this? I thought your knowledgeable group of readers might know the answer.



For those who don't know, Max took courses at Yonsei University and speaks Korean quite well. I, on the other hand, consider myself at best a middling Korean speaker, and Max's question highlights this deficiency: to answer it properly, I would need to keep a closer eye on Korean-language news sources before I could offer an intelligent reply.

I do know that, if you hit major blogs like The Marmot's Hole or The Lost Nomad, you'll encounter plenty of expat grumbling about how crime gets reported in Korea: it's usually biased against the dirty furriner. Alleged Korean criminals enjoy a degree of anonymity in most cases, whereas foreigners accused of a crime can expect to have their full name reported right off the bat. Expats are also bothered by what appears to be an unfair association of foreigners with certain types of crime committed routinely by Koreans-- these would include theft, rape, and murder. The usual expat gripe is, "When a foreigner does it, it's news."

The content of papers like the Korea Times and Korea Herald doesn't necessarily represent what Koreans actually see on Korean-language TV and in the Korean-language papers, however. There may be a great deal of truth to the expat's complaint, but it's also possible that there's more to the situation than meets the eye, especially if the expat (1) isn't fluent in Korean and (2) isn't following the Korean-language news.**

*No problem. I shrank the link with good ol' Tiny URL.

**An expat suffering from (1) isn't perforce clueless. A non-fluent expat can still try to follow the Korean-language news through friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. It's possible to be aware of what's going on. Much depends on one's desire to be aware. I'm trying as hard as I can to be fair to both sides here. I think some Koreans feel we expats are unjustly maligning Korean public consciousness largely because the language barrier makes us ignorant of the actual reality. At the same time, the expat complaint about bias is so long-standing-- and arrives independently from expats of all races, political persuasions, and nationalities-- that I wouldn't want to dismiss the complaint as a simple misunderstanding.


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