By Sohn Suk-hee, President of JTBC Newsroom
This is the keynote speech delivered at the 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the HKJA on May 19, 2018.
Members of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, it is a pleasure to meet you. I want to thank Chairperson, Mr. Chris Yeung, who was kind enough to invite me to this event. It is a true honor to be speaking here at the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of HKJA.
I have been working as a journalist in Korea for thirty-five years now, and I stand here as your colleague. I say this not only because we share the same job, but also because the media of Hong Kong, like that of Korea, has been and still is being abused by political authority and capital power.
In 1984, I started my career at MBC, one of the largest broadcasting companies in Korea and, as you know, it was during a time when the media was completely controlled by a regulatory device known as "Report Guidelines" under the brutal military regime of Chun Doo-hwan. In those days it was the government that had the authority over every step of reporting which, of course, included what, when, and how to report. By the late 90's, after the downfall of the military regime, the Korean media slowly gained independence. But the conglomerates that practically held a majority of advertisements were essentially controlling the media and, due to the failure of the democratic government, another authoritarian government took over, which reverted the circumstances around Korean media back to square one. Although it may not be as direct as in the past military regimes, Korean media is being violated in a much more manipulative way over the last ten years.
At school, I learned and also taught the relationship between media and social change, but throughout my experience over the last three decades I am afraid I have not been able to confidently claim that media is capable of changing society. I came to question whether the media can really lead social change or if it is just busy keeping up. Frankly speaking, I have a sense of shame that the media is rather interrupting social change, and such skepticism originated from what I have explained a while ago. Media has always been subsumed by political and capital power, going as far as to protecting them or at least not criticizing them, which in turn enabled them to prosper and industrialize.
In other words, media has become another establishment, and it is only natural for an establishment to fear social change which is prone to jeopardizing its position.
Among what I had learned theoretically as roles of media, I believe this shift in the media landscape can be explained with the Guard Dog model because it is apparent that the traditional Watch Dog or Lap Dog models are no longer relevant. Such a phenomenon explains why media that have subordinated themselves to power can only remain secure when keeping the status quo.
From that perspective, the critical role that the media had in changing Korean society in 2016 was, to me, astonishing. And the fact that JTBC's newsroom was at the center of that change made it all more ironic and dramatic. JTBC's roots come from political and corporate powers. They say some cable television networks including JTBC were made by conservative government and the cartel of conservative newspapers for their own political and economic interests. But, JTBC has been taken a different stance from others from the beginning.
JTBC's exclusive reporting on the 'Tablet PC' in 2016 which contained much evidence of the inappropriate relationship between then President Park Keun Hye and Choi Soon Sil led to the impeachment of President Park, and this ignited a change of thought that media indeed can bring about change in society.
This, of course, does not necessarily mean hope for fellow media members. As the power of media has been proven in that political situation in 2016 and 2017, movements confronting the media have become more influential as a reaction. Such movements come from supporters of the new administration which was founded by the 'Candlelight Revolution', and also from certain conservatives who are against the new administration. The antagonizing inundation of fake news, as well, is a public enemy that the media has to face. However, no one can deny that the media has proofed that it can and has the practical power to change society.
I told you that I came here as a colleague in my opening words. I also told you that the current circumstances that Hong Kong's journalism faces today is not so different from what journalism in Korea faced over the years. I thought that Hong Kong's market and media were going to experience drastic change when Hong Kong was retroceded to China. The market hasn't gone through any rapid change. However, I believe the media has gone through considerable changes under the radar. Although there is a difference from national media in China, censorship was not something that Hong Kong could avoid. The influence that Chinese corporates and advertisers have on Hong Kong's media cannot be underestimated. Also, Xi Jinping, will be holding a lifetime regime, which does not offer a bright light ahead for Hong Kong's media.
Despite the trials and tribulations, I want to say that media can bring about change in society, but that such change is impossible when journalists are daunted or corrupted. The broadcast company that I am part of is proving that, at least partially. JTBC, in fact, has not received any advertisements from Samsung which is the biggest corporate in Korea due to its unfriendly stance against the conglomerates, but has successfully survived so far. Let’s have the confidence that we will survive as long as we do not allow political and corporate power to conquer us, accumulate trust from our viewers and readers, and become more daring.
Once again, I sincerely congratulate HKJA on its fiftieth anniversary.