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Regret over New York Times’ ad on ferry Sewol

Posted May. 13, 2014 06:55,   


Advertisements concerning Korea are often carried in the New York Times in the U.S. Many are commercial ads sponsored by conglomerates, but advertisements designed to promote Korea and convey its stances to readers are also carried in the daily newspaper quite often. The New Work Times is mostly read by Americans, but since it is a world-renowned prestigious newspaper, the effect of advertising goes beyond the U.S. national border. The Japanese government protested advertisements on Korea’s easternmost island of Dokdo that were created and sponsored by Sungshin Women’s University professor Seo Kyung-deok and singer Kim Jang-hoon due to the newspaper’s immense influence.

Seo started placing advertising campaigns promoting Korea to foreigners in the mid-1990s. Korea’s culture and history including the Korean alphabet Hangeul and traditional song arirang, and truth about Dokdo and the East Sea were introduced to foreign readers through ads in the daily. He also placed ads that raise complaints against Japan, which has denied responsibility for comfort women or sex slaves for the Japanese military. Korean companies and citizens chipped in to cover the expenses, and celebrities including actors Ahn Sung-ki and Cha In-pyo, and baseballers Park Chan-ho and Choo Shin-soo also contributed to support him.

An advertisement sponsored by some Korean Americans and Koreans living in the U.S., is already provocative with its title “Bring the Truth to Light. Why are Koreans outraged by President Park Geun-hye?” Even people overseas have the right to criticize the Korean government which failed to prevent a national tragedy. It is not wrong to express disappointment at President Park, or reveal furor at her administration. However, the ad contains ill-advised messages, including ‘the Korean government censures media and manipulates reporting.’ This is clear distortion of the facts. The top section of the ad shows a drawing of the capsized Sewol. The image appears to have gone overly provocative at a time when the motherland of the ad’s sponsors is in deep sorrow due to the Sewol disaster.

When he visited Korea last month, U.S. President Barack Obama started the Korea-U.S. summit talks by taking a moment of silence to pay condolences to the victims of Sewol. A magnolia tree Obama donated to pay respects to the young students has been planted at the campus of Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. Even the U.S. president took such a considerate move, and criticism of their motherland should be done in a way that exercises due courtesy especially at a time of national sadness. It may be okay for the sponsors of the ad to express regret over and criticize the government for a tragic accident that occurred in their motherland, but expressions such as ‘Koreans are outraged for (President Park’s) backpedaling democracy’ will hardly win consent from the Korean public.

Editorial writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)