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Cablegate: Korean Media Takes the Right Line On Afghan Hostage Crisis

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #2361/01 2190738
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070738Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5879
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0081
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 2940
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3056
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP// PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA CC SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J3 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY

UNCLAS SEOUL 002361

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

COMM CENTER PLEASE PASS TO COMUSKOREA SCJS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PROP PTER KS AF
SUBJECT: KOREAN MEDIA TAKES THE RIGHT LINE ON AFGHAN HOSTAGE CRISIS


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In an August 6 meeting with Embassy Seoul PAO, a
senior writer for one of Korea's three largest and most influential
national dailies explained that the mainstream media have made a
conscious editorial decision to advise Koreans not to blame the
hostage crisis on the United States or allow it to be used as an
excuse for cynical political attacks and anti-Americanism. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) On August 6 PAO and Acting Deputy PAO met over lunch with
Kim Young-hie, Senior Writer for Joong-ang Ilbo, who is viewed by
many as the "Dean" of Korea's journalists. At 71 Mr. Kim remains
fully engaged with his profession, penning a monthly column and
contributing news analyses several times a week. A one-time
Washington correspondent, he also serves as the self-described
"Minister of Foreign Affairs" for the paper, representing Joong-ang
Ilbo in its many interactions with foreign think tanks and other
outside organizations with which Joong-ang has relationships. The
fact that the mandatory retirement age at Joong-ang Ilbo is 55
speaks to the value his organization places on Mr. Kim's talents.
Next year in fact, Mr. Kim will celebrate 50 years as a journalist,
a record unlikely to soon, if ever, be broken.

3. (SBU) The discussion quickly turned to the ongoing Korean
hostage situation in Afghanistan. Citing an editorial appearing
that morning in Dong-A Ilbo and similar editorials and op-ed pieces
that had appeared in Chosun Ilbo and Joong-ang Ilbo over the past
several days, Mr. Kim said that the mainstream media, which he
described with the neologism "CHOJOONGDONG" (CHOsun Ilbo, JOONG-ang
Ilbo and DONG-a Ilbo), had made a conscious decision not to let the
fringe media and political activists steal the issue in order to
bludgeon the U.S. as they had in the heat of the 2002 Korean
presidential election campaign.

4. (SBU) Asked if journalists from the three papers had actually
had a meeting about this strategy, Mr. Kim said not as such, but it
was the kind of concern that senior journalists discussed over
coffee and on the fringes of any number of receptions and meetings
on other topics. Thus, while there had been nothing as overt as a
coordinating session to work out a common strategy, there was at all
three papers, he said, a serious determination not to let this issue
be hijacked, and hence the prominence of several editorials and
op-ed pieces of the previous week or so arguing that responsibility
for the hostage crisis did not lie with the U.S.

5. (SBU) Mr. Kim said journalists at the "big three" newspapers were
acutely aware that the distorted coverage of the accidental deaths
of the two Korean school girls in 2002 was a key factor in the
election results that year. He said the mistakes the papers made in
2002 were that (1) they were distracted by other stories, mainly the
election itself, and (2) they drastically underestimated the
potential of that story as a vehicle with which to hammer at the
U.S. and the U.S.-ROK alliance and influence the election.
According to Mr. Kim, the mainstream media were not going to let
this happen again, and so far Joong-ang Ilbo had followed that
editorial line as had both Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo.

6. (SBU) Recalling the emotion-laden meeting the Charge had had with
the families of the hostages, the PAO noted that the family members
present had expressed deep appreciation for the Embassy's concern
and support, and that subsequently the family members had requested
civic organizations and other progressive activists to refrain from
demonstrations against and criticism of the U.S. Agreeing, Mr. Kim
said that, in his view, the families, even in their grief, were
acutely aware of the embarrassment to Korea this incident had caused
and the tremendous burdens, financial and otherwise, their own
government and fellow countrymen were being forced to assume on
behalf of them and their loved ones. The last thing in the world
these people wanted, Mr. Kim said, was to make the fate of the
hostages a domestic political issue. Whether or not they would
succeed in keeping the situation non-political, according to Mr.
Kim, was not entirely in their hands, but he believed Korean society
had learned a lot in the past few years and, despite wishes to the
contrary among some quarters, he did not see the issue, whatever the
outcome, rising to the level of the 2002 incident as a factor in
this year's election.

7. (SBU) Comment: Post will continue to closely monitor domestic
Korean media coverage of the hostage issue, but to date we are
pleased to see that the mainstream media are, perhaps
uncharacteristically, getting it right. End Comment.

STANTON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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