In Korean society, the Internet has become everyone's life necessity. The number of citizens using the internet was recorded as the eighth from the top, and the rate of population using the internet was also recorded the 12th from the top. (According to International Telecommunication Union report, 2007). Since broadband became widespread in Korea, there has also been a demand for an online communication system. Cyber buddies, messengers, homepages, blogs, and online fan clubs indicate the change in cultures, politics and economics.
Above all, giant portal sites had established their own newsgathering system. While everyone watches the portal site news, journalists tend to create so-called low quality news for portal sites so numerous people can watch those low quality news written without ethics. This kind of article encourages readers to respond more actively so that much more malicious replies can be written and cause mental anguish. Recently, this phenomenon led some celebrities and ordinary people to commit suicide. The journalists who wrote those articles have a fundamental responsibility for that situation. Korean society is now in need of fundamental solutions and also the nationwide concern to prevent further progress of this accident.
|▲ ITIF's Broadband Rankings among the 30 OECD Countries, 2007 * ITIF(Information Technology & Innovation Foundation)
The Korean Press Ethics Commission (KPEC) office has disclosed monthly cases from all the issues online newspapers and magazines in Korea since 2000. Among those issued in August and September of 2008, they found 46 articles, two serial stories, and 15 advertisements violating press ethics in journalism. The case showed that articles against ethics were constantly found to be average number of twenty.
The Korean Press Ethics Commission office? notification on a newspaper articles, states the freedom of speech, the responsibility, the independence of the press, the right for reporting and evaluation, and respect for personal life and dignity. But the recent articles which were against this rule are mostly triggered by journalists who abused this rule in the process of writing the articles. According to the KPEC's recent study about the banning cases of the 1297 articles, the main reason was plagiarism of articles (601 cases, 63.2%) followed by advertising, and sensationalism (205 cases, 8.4%). Results show that as time passes, with the flood of information, news media all around us had triggered the weakening of objective and independent articles in Korean newspapers. That directly caused the decrease in high quality news.
Usually, controversial subjects are frequently used as topics by the journalists. Rumors and private lives of celebrities are commonly used as the subject of articles. This journalists' behavior not only lowers quality but can lead to one's serious mental despair and consideration of suicide. Journalist did not obey the rule stated to respect other people's privacy and dignity. As the case that proves it, actress Choi Jin-shil has recently committed suicide after drinking some alcohol and pills, leaving her children behind. The prosecutors concluded this was compulsive suicide. But rumors came out that she lent her money to another colleague actor, Ahn Jae-hwan and that caused his mysterious suicide. Her suicide affected Korean society seriously, not just because celebrities' serial suicide news, but she was the icon of a passionate, middle aged Korean woman. The public felt depressed by the breaking news and imitative suicide attempts occurred consequently.
Basically, this story arose because of rumors by journalists' articles on the internet that Choi intentionally lent her money to Ahn. After her relentless suicide, the police concluded that she had no connection with that issue but she reacted sensitively to the rumor about herself.
Side Effect of Using Internet
This phenomenon was not just today's problem. Statistically, Korea recorded an average of 21.5 suicides per 100,000 people, a shameful first place among the entire OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) member nations. And this number is rising annually. Then why is this happening in Korea? Korea is one of the most sophisticated internet using countries in the world. All news can also be seen online and in tabloids. "I think the accessibility to news and rumor has caused Koreans to be more sensitive to all. There is no doubt that we can see how world is going through Naver's front page," said Kim Su-yeon, a junior student of Business School at Seoul National University. It means of almost all people including college students, are affected by news and rumors from internet portal sites. NHN (Next Human Network), which owns "naver.com" the largest portal site in Korea, has roughly 10.5 million users every day, also it gathers news from news companies and offers it to the general users. But portal sites have shown that they have ability to affect public in way of changing original articles slightly and board them in the spot which is most convenient to look at. And portal sites deliberately expose viewers to their advertisements in the articles. Why does this happen? "Korea is one of the most sophisticated wired countries in this world. Internet itself is activated enough but they had failed to find other business models except for advertisements. In addition, recent economic crisises have frozen the advertisement market. "This is kind of cultural lag," said Jang Woo-sung, journalist from Korean Journalist Association.
|▲ Choi known as sensitive reactor of rumor when she was alive
The Obvious Structure of Internet Media
Professor Park So-ra of Hanyang University, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication said, "To win the competition with other news companies and portal sites, they had to be more attractive and interesting to provide their news to more people. And this is because they can hold advertisements when they have a large number of readers."
Jang said, "This happens because of the commercial structure of the internet media. To make earnings from internet they need to raise page views. In short term, articles with stimulating headlines attract more readers online. Online media cannot be free from this fact."
In this process, a portal site which does not have ability to make news themselves and stout systems make their posting to be more exposed to the public. For a news company to make a high quality article requires many criteria. They need multiple journalists and a strong news collecting system. But in the reality, a company usually focuses on how many people would read the article, not making qualified articles. The low quality of an article originates from this vicious circle. They needed to be more efficient, so they chose to invade someone's private life, make rumors, and plagiarize.
Who is Going to Take Responsibility for This?
A Press Arbitration Commission office held a conference in Nov. 11, dealing that whether portal sites should be supervised by the law called "Press arbitration". In this conference, experts including judges, journalists, and news service providers had different opinions. Professor Yang Kyung-seung of Judicial Research and Training Institute stated that "A social problem arose as the defamation of character, rumor and privacy exposal increased in the internet. Portal sites which provide news should also be managed by the law." This means that the ability of portal sites to select and revise the news by themselves had officially started being challenged by the law. On the other hand, Yoon Young-chan, the head of NHN Media service department, confessed, "We positively consider that portal sites have responsibility to board correction and opposite opinions, too. But we will not be able to watch every detail of 15,000 articles from 108 media."
Both Readers and Providers Have to Move on
Korea is self-esteemed as the leading country of high internet using rate. But the online culture has not matured yet. Apparently, it is not totally one's fault. Both news providers and customers need to change. In order to circulate fine information in the internet, both service providers and users should work on it mutually. Park said about this, "In the past, a service provider's role was crucial, but in the internet a customer's role is also becoming important. So a certain education needs to be performed about how to use information searched from the internet."
Portal sites need to raise their capability more on the news service fields, until now, and they put their efforts only in attracting more readers but as they started to work as major media, they have to put their power more on building a stronger news service system. Even though they are not professional news makers, they have to change the current situation which internet portal site is now at.
Journalists have a responsibilities too. They have to be awared of the fact that they are professional reporters for society and there are existing rules and ethics in their work. Professor Park said "In the aspect of long term, the real competitive media gives qualified information. Impulsive headlines are not enough for making real long term readers."
One of the most famous foreign websites, Google operates a monitoring team on their own and manages the various problems. Jang said, "Korean portal sites are also currently running monitoring teams but the number and capability of teams are not enough to control them but this could be continued to reinforce the inspection in online. A possible way to fix this is to raise social consciousness to the distribution of information online."