A Week in Korea Pt 2: Despite four years as a media student, I still experience thrill of delight when I step into a TV studio set or newsroom and see how the media that we consume is constructed, and that was certainly a focus of our KACS media tour.
We started our first 'formal' day of the tour with a presentation at the Korea Press Foundation, greeted by a sign that welcomed us 'baby journalists'. The emphasis on the challenges of the digital age on media structures drove home how this issue is truly global and. After being treated to a gorgeous, traditional lunch at the Korea Press Club afterwards, we headed to the Dong-A Daily Newspaper headquarters.
There, we were given a quick tour through the unusually quiet newsroom (quiet because it's not yet deadline time, our guide informed us - good to know the last-minute scramble doesn't end at university!) Amusingly, the newsroom was holding onto a couple of very vintage computer monitors - think the ivory-ish plastic of Windows 98 systems - and we also walked past the culture editor's desk, piled high with several stacks of books taller than his head, which was something that I didn't think existed outside anime.
Many Korean newspapers have strong ties with the broadcast channels and therefore we were able to move down into Dong-A's Channel A TV studio for a quick tour (and photo-op). Channel A also boasts a small media museum, which features exhibitions about Korea's historical printing presses and a wall of newspaper covers from around the world from January 1st, 2000. Really quite a fascinating place for media nerds.
The Korea National Assembly was our next stop, and triggered many flashbacks to primary school Canberra visits. The building is a gigantic complex with vast expanses of meticulously groomed lawns. We were shown around the building, briefly and spectacularly crashed the stage of a press-conference-in-the-waiting, and had a look at the Plenary Chamber, albeit this time from the section reserved for media. Unlike Australia, the most important Party members tend to sit at the back of the chamber so they can easily be called away for other commitments, and the chamber is shaped in an arch, sectioned according to party alignments, with the President and House Speaker sitting at the elevated block at the head of the room. It's a very appropriate reflection of South Korea's less adversarial and hierarchy-centered governance method - I'm intrigued about how their civil courts are laid out too.
In a rare opportunity, we were also able to meet floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, Won Yoo-Chul, who, you'll forgive me for mentioning, had some truly amazing hair. Many Asian societies, in line with the influence of historical Confucian precepts, tend to treat their political figures with extreme reverence and, for those of us unfamiliar with Korean politics, it's hard not to feel at least a little humbled that someone with a whole retinue of staff had taken some time off his busy day to greet us, even if in front of the 'conservatism is progress' banner in the room. It was also the day that he had finished a meeting about the re-configuration of electoral boundaries, which was presumably the reason we saw media personnel camped throughout Parliament House and glued to their laptops during our visit (a glimpse into our futures?).
Our last 'media' visit the next day to Yonhap News Agency was perhaps my favourite 'official' visit. Yonhap is Korea's news wire service, a peer to AFP, Associated Press and Reuters, which supplies domestic news stories to Korean media and international channels. We often underestimate the importance of news agencies and wire services in supplying news to the media ecosystem but Yonhap's size reinforced its importance. You'd think 3rd and 4th year media students would not be so excited about appearing on the screen or to be on a TV studio set, but you'd be wrong. That being said, I definitely geeked out more, walking past the camera crew's table full of shooting equipment and when we were led behind into an 'on air' newsroom in the middle of a broadcast.
Their practised, methodical precision was very impressive. Yonhap also boasts a little 'celebrity signature' wall in its lobby - I spotted TVXQ, SNSD and Kim Yuna among others - alongside with a company logo made up of its employee's faces, which is both sweet and maybe a little creepy?
Interestingly, the Japanese Embassy to Seoul was across the road from Yonhap. It's a sign of the tense political relations between the two countries that the place was heavily fortified, with busloads of guards in front of the entrances. We also were able to see the 'comfort women' sculpture sitting opposite the Embassy front door. In the rain, with rainwater pooling at the eyes of the sculpture, it makes for a powerful political statement and a lot of food for thought.