Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tragedy and News Coverage

For the last month, the top news story here (really the only news story) has been the mystery and tragedy surrounding the explosion and sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy vessel. The cause is still under investigation, but as the mounting evidence continues to point inexorably in the direction of a North Korean submarine attack, the question is what is the South Korea government, and the wider global community, going to do about what probably amounts to a belligerent act of war.

In South Korea, the public mood is getting very restive, and the government is playing a balancing act between calling for restraint (which angers the already upset Korean people and seems to belittle their loss) and sending confrontational signals (which might frighten investors and damage the economy). It looks like the Lee government is committing to putting the problem before the UN, but the Chinese and Russians on the Security Council will certainly veto any retaliatory action, and the UN has already tried putting the full weight of economic sanctions on the North after the last nuclear test, with little effect. It is easy to understand why South Koreans feel their lives are being traded cheaply in favor of maintaining the regional equilibrium.

One thing I noticed, even before this happened, is that South Korean news stations really get in the faces of the poor families of the victims when tragedy strikes, no matter how grief-stricken they may be. When the news first broke, they were waiting as the families arrived at the military briefing room, and showed some of the family members fainting and having to be carried away. As each sailor's body was recovered and examined, a clot of reporters were waiting at the doors of the morgue to follow each bereaved mother out and beseige her with flashbulbs and microphones, hoping to get the "money shot" of her collapsing in grief. The strange thing is that none of the grieving families seemed to lash out in response to this. If that happened to me, I would probably punch someone in the jaw.

This sort of thing has been on the nightly news every night for a month now. If you want to see what I'm talking about, a good example of this sort of reporting is watchable here.

Japanese news is relatively tame, though I can recall them broadcasting a fair amount of grief in the face of tragedy as well. American news is positively restrained. As far as I know, US news stations are still forbidden even from showing flag-draped coffins coming home from war, though I still don't understand how they worked that around the 1st Ammendment. I'm not sure which approach is worse.

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