Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sinking of the Cheonan: A Political Report

International Strategy Center based in Seoul hosted a lecture-dialog on the controversial sinking of the Cheonan on March 26, 2010 at 9:20am. Kim Sang-Gyoon, the presenter, is a former MBC producer for the Current Affairs & Documentaries Department producing "W: World Wide Weekly", "Now We Can Speak", to name a few. Well qualified in work and leadership, Kim additionally qualifies in scholarship in Journalism and Mass Communication (PhD).

Media Coverage of the Cheonan Corvette Sinking and Impact on East Asia
The Cheonan Corvette sunk on March 26, 2010 killing 46 sailors. At that time the media just parroted the government line that a North Korean torpedo attack was to blame ignoring many of the questions and inconsistencies with the results of the investigation. Nonetheless, South Korea, the US, and Japan strengthened measures against North Korea. Kim, Sang Gyoon, a former MBC producer, lectures on the media coverage of the Cheonan Corvette sinking and its impact on East Asia.
Some interesting points addressed in the lecture:
  • There is antagonistic symbiosis between South Korea, North Korea, and Japan as well as the more far-reaching countries. The three countries specifically mentioned look like enemies and yet they depend on each other for economy, increasing the military budget, etc. 
  • During the first three days or even longer, no mention whatsoever of North Korea attacking the Cheonan was mentioned. Later, there was dialog among South Korea, Japan and the US and then the news was filled with the notion that North Korea had torpedoed the Cheonan with 250kg torpedo which exploded underwater creating an air-bubble environment which resulted in the sinking of the Cheonan. (Later when the Cheonan was rescued from the sea floor, no evidence of torpedo or detonation or chemical trace from explosives was evidenced.)
  • The derogatory Korean term giregi (기래기), which is a metaplasm created from 기자 (reporter) and 쑤래기 (trash/garbage), was coined during the atrocious reporting of the sinking of the Sewol when reporters were reporting off of each other's reports and not reporting via actual knowledge or via interviews. This word is now being used for any kind of reporting that is felt to be uninformed or a distortion of the facts, and this includes discussion of reports on the sinking of the Cheonan.
  • The three most conservative newspapers in Korea are: Jungang Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, and Cheonan Ilbo.
  • The three public network groups, basically owned or controlled by the government with producers being appointed by the government, are: KBS, SBS and MBC.
  • Kim Sang-Gyoon was a producer (?) of the documentary investigating the sudden sinking of the Cheonan, "The Cheonan Project" (this might be translated incorrectly), but the documentary was not allowed to be publicly screened. 
  • The government has a history of penalizing producers who are too liberal, examples of which penal actions were taken: "추석 60분" and "제3의 부표".
  • Kim Sang-Gyoon felt forced to terminate his position and give voice to topics that the public needed to hear about, not make news-controlled information programs. He and others who felt the need to have proper voice started their own private network and are currently creating public-informing programs.

An article related to the lecture was later published in the World Current Report, Vol 11, November 2015, 2nd Anniversary Special Issue put out by ISC (International Strategy Center - 국제전력센터) .

Lecture on the Cheonan Sinking
By James Flynn

When invited by ISC to attend an interview about the Cheonan Sinking, I jumped at the chance. About a month earlier I attended the tour of the Gyeongsan Cobalt Mine Massacre site. Though the trip, I ended up learning a lot about a Korean History that’s hard to access. I liked our tour guides’ friendly and open atmosphere when we met with local community leaders who had been researching the incident and the family members of the victims. Despite the language barrier our guides encouraged open discussion, and through our conversations, I and others were motivated to learn more about this and similar incidents in Korean History. Attending a lecture on the Cheonan Sinking offered the chance to do just that.

Kim San-gyun was listed as the lecturer and billed as a former MBC producer who had researched on the Cheonan Sinking. As with the Gyeongsan Cobalt Mine tour, I was impressed with ISC’s access to civil society leaders. I thought it was particularly interesting that a former MBC producer would be doing the lecture due to the high media profile of the incident (it made global headlines), and the fact that only a couple of years later there had been a massive walk-out of media workers, led in part by MBC employees.

I had first heard about the Cheonan Sinking shortly after it occurred in late March 2010. At that time, I was a student at Rowan University in the United States. That semester, I had been enjoying a course on the history of the Soviet Union, so Cold War subjects were often on my mind. It was this class that made me interested in Korea, the only country where the Cold War had gone “hot.”

I’m not a consumer of cable media, and I avoid major networks like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX, but I did watch the PBS Newshour religiously, due to its quality and relative lack of hyperbole. Unlike the other networks, I felt that PBS covered the sinking quite objectively, withholding any blame for the incident until more evidence was brought forth. Of course, while no judgment was ever made by the anchor or written in a bulletin, by sampling the guests interviewed – especially those appearing after the US-led joint investigative team had made their conclusions, it seemed the general consensus was that the DPRK was to blame. The story then quickly disappeared from the headlines.

For myself, and I suppose for the most of us in America, the story was over. The DPRK had once again “proven itself” to be a “rogue nation” capable of unpredictable and seemingly unprovoked acts of aggression. However, after attending the lecture, I discovered that this was far from the case.

The lecturer, Kim San-gyun, revealed that from the very beginning of the incident, both the traditionally conservative newspapers (i.e. Joseon, Jungang, and Dong-a Ilbo) followed by the three major networks (KBS, SBS, and MBC) presented a single narrative, which echoed the government’s, placing blame solely at the feet of the DPRK and ignoring or dismissing any evidence to the contrary. In fact, some documentaries and news reports casting doubt on the official government statements were produced but never aired, and the producers of those programs faced penalties for allegedly seditious content.

Our lecturer went on to explain a bit more about the regulatory structure of Korean Media and why journalists are pressured to produce lines favorable to that of the government. While the Korean Press is nominally free and the major networks are run as independent companies, the heads of the public media companies are appointed directly by the president. While completely independent networks are allowed to and do indeed exist (such as JTBC) the three giants KBS, MBC, and SBS by far have the largest audiences, and even these networks are constrained in their criticism due to the government’s “anti-communist laws” which can and have been used to silence critics. It had seemed that the story ended in the late-spring of 2010, but it was clear from this lecture that a lot more had been left unexamined.

I enjoyed this lecture for the opportunity it provided to examine one of the most significant events in recent Korean history and its impact on civil society and the chance to meet with someone directly involved, Mr. Kim San-gyun. I’m looking forward to attending similar events hosted by ISC in the future.

written by James Flynn


Some months later -- Saturday April 23, 2016 -- Barry Welsh -- who hosts the Seoul Book and Culture Club, the Seoul Film Society and the Royal Asiatic Cinema Club -- hosted a similar topic on the controversial sinking of the Cheonan. Read as follows:

Please join Seoul Film Society and the Royal Asiatic Society Cinema Club for our first April screening on Saturday 23rd April at 2pm. We will be showing the controversial documentary film ‘Project Cheonan Ship' followed by an interview with director Baek Seung-woo. ENGLISH SUBTITLES. 

서울필름소사이어티와 왕립아시아학회가 공동 주최하는 4월 이벤트! '천안함 프로젝트'의 백승우 영화 감독님과의 만남에 초대합니다. 일정은 아래와 같습니다. 2016년 4월 23일 오후 2시. 화제의 작품이었던 다큐멘터리 영화 '천안함 프로젝트'를 상영한 후 영화를 감독하신 백승우 감독님을 모시고 감독과의 만남을 가질 예정입니다. 감독님의 이야기를 직접 듣고 질문도 해볼 수 있는 흥미로운 시간이 될 것입니다. 영화는 영어자막과 함께 제공되며 입장은 무료입니다. 

On March 26, 2010, Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship carrying 104 crewmen, sank off the country’s west coast. A government-led investigation involving experts not only from South Korea but also the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Sweden concluded that same year in May that the warship had been hit by a North Korean torpedo -- though Pyongyang denied the charges.

2010년 3월 26일 천안 부근의 서해안에서 한국 해군 104명을 태운 해군함이 침몰했습니다. 한국 정부를 포함한 미국, 영국, 캐나다, 호주, 스웨덴의 전문가들이 동원되어 진행된 조사 결과 같은 해 5월, 천안함 침몰은 북한의 어뢰 공격 때문이었다는 결론이 나왔습니다. 북한에서는 이를 부인합니다.

In his feature film debut, ‘Project Cheonan Ship’, Baek Seung-woo, an independent filmmaker who has directed several shorts, such as 2011's Wooden Goose, offers a thoroughly analytical documentary of the incident. “Contrary to the expectation that this will be a story that is argumentative and provocative, ‘Project Cheonan Ship’ gives the impression of a science documentary made by a scholar because of its consistent calmness and analysis of the story,” says JIFF executive programmer Kim Youngjin.

백승우 감독님은 독립 영화제작자로 2011년 작품인 Wooden goose를 포함하여 다양한 단편영화를 제작하였습니다. '천안함 프로젝트'는 백승우 감독의 첫 장편영화이며 천안함 사건을 치밀하게 분석한 다큐멘터리입니다. 전주국제영화제 김영진 수석프로그래머는, "많은 사람들이 이 영화를 논쟁적이고 자극적인 내용일 것이라고 기대하지만 영화 속에서 차분하게 이어지는 분석은 마치 학자가 만든 것 같은 인상을 준다" 라고 영화 '천안함 프로젝트를' 평하였습니다.

In addition to the film’s inherently controversial subject matter, ‘Project Cheonan Ship’ was produced by none other than Chung Ji-young -- the auteur of such politically charged films as ‘Unbowed’, a sleeper hit that vehemently attacks the Korean supreme court, and ‘National Security’ (Namyeong-dong 1985), a crowd-funded project about the 1985 torture of a democracy activist by the national police.


2pm – 3:20pm – Screening of ‘Project Cheonan Ship’
3:20pm – 3:30pm – Interval
3:30pm – 5pm – Interview and Q and A with director Baek Seung-woo and producer Chung Ji-young

This event will be moderated by film critic and journalist Nemo Kim. Nemo writes about Asian Issues for Monocle, The Korea Observer, Sight and Sound. She was formerly Korea Correspondent at Variety and editor of Reuters/TenAsia Korean Culture Desk. She also teaches Korean Cinema and Culture at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

저널리스트 김네모씨가 모더레이터로 진행해주실 것입니다. 김네모씨는 Monocle, The Korea Observer, Sight and Sound에 한국 관련 이슈로 기고하고 계십니다. Variety의 한국특파원, Reuters/TenAsia Korean Culture Desk의 에디터로도 활동하였습니다. 한국 외대에서 한국 영화와 문화에

This event is brought to you by:

Royal Asiatic Society Cinema Club

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