Contact Us

HOME > 16th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Lecture 2: The Image of Foreign Countries in Korean Television Programs- Focus on the US, Japan, China, India and the Vietnam –

JAMCO Online International Symposium

16th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January to March, 2007

Images of Foreign Countries Projected on Television of China, Korea, and Japan

Lecture 2: The Image of Foreign Countries in Korean Television Programs- Focus on the US, Japan, China, India and the Vietnam -

Yeon Lee
Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sun Moon University, South Korea

1. The purpose of this study

The purpose of this study is to understand the image of foreign countries in television programs aired by nationwide Korean broadcasting companies. I analyze the portrayals in programs from public companies, KBS-TV (Korea Broadcasting System) and MBC-TV (MunWha Broadcasting Company); a private company, SBS-TV (Seoul Broadcasting System); and a private and educational broadcasting company, EBS-TV (Education Broadcasting System).

I began by making a list of the foreign countries that appeared most often in Korean TV programs. I then analyzed the context in which each image appeared. Recently, thanks to the development of digital broadcasting technology, each country’s image appears in real time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also, with the expansion of digital broadcasting technology and the development of image-copying technology, anyone can easily make large quantities of copies that are similar to the original. Because of the convergence between broadcasting and communications, these copied TV images can be relayed across the world via television, Internet, satellite and IPTV in real time. In this information age, it is possible to evaluate a country’s image based on the exchange of information. Therefore, in the global era, national image on TV programs is important.

But recently, in the Northeast Asian nations of Korea, China and Japan diplomatic tensions have arisen due to Japan’s refusal to acknowledge war crimes and its distortion of history textbooks. In this trend, I collected images of foreign countries in Korean TV programs to propose improved relations through the study of stereotyped content.

2. Methodology

In this study, I studied two channels, KBS-1TV and KBS-2TV, both subsidiaries of KBS. KBS is a public broadcasting company similar to the BBC in England and NHK in Japan. There are no commercials on KBS-1TV, but KBS-2TV shows commercial like private companies do. KBS gets a TV receiving fee. MBC is a public company that gets some of its revenue from public funds and some from showing commercials. SBS is a private company that shows commercials. EBS is a public company with an educational broadcasting mission. KBS provides some financial support to EBS from its receiving fees. For the purposes of this study I examined all programs that aired images of foreign countries, a study that spanned five channels and four nationwide broadcasts. I collected images from three genres: documentaries, soap operas and entertainment programs. I excluded images from news programs. News programs were not easy to analyze for these purposes because the appearance of images of foreign countries on news broadcasts is due to world events, not the producer’s intent. Of the programs I evaluated, I ranked each image as favorable, normal, or unfavorable in order to simplify statistical data. And data, which is under decimal point, is not important, so I removed it.

How did I analyze this data? I examined each program’s timetable, related documents and home page. I, also, didn’t include some imaged, which are meaningless and are showing just name of city and country, from my study.

I have conducted this study for two years and six months, from January 1, 2004, to June 30t, 2006. Therefore, in some cases, if a program couldn’t be end within this period, there is possibility to change images that are different from its original ones.

3. The contents of study

As stated above, I have studied three genres on five TV channels over a period of two years and six months. The study of national images in TV programs is very difficult, as the findings will differ depending on the researcher’s preconception. Therefore, I tried to conduct this study objectively with as few outside variables as possible.

I collected a total of 112 national images from three genres on five channels. Of course, the nuances of these images vary slightly according to the character of the channel and the program on which they appear. But I do not think this has a great impact on the general trend of images. The character of he broadcasting company and channel notwithstanding, I separated the collected 112 images into three categories: favorable, normal and unfavorable. It is possible that this categorization to is based on arbitrary decisions. But as I closely analyzed the purpose and character of each program, I am confident that most of the programs were evaluated objectively.

As I illustrate below (see Table-1), most images of foreign countries on Korean TV programs are of the US, Japan and China. The country most often depicted is Japan, the second is China and the third is the US. And Iraq and German close the rank fourth and fifth, but I focused on Asia countries. So, I rank Vietnam and India on the fourth and fifth, instead of Iraq and German. Mongolia and Russia are sixth and seventh in this ranking. Having conducted this study, I know that on Korean TV, the country most frequently depicted is Japan. Next are China and the US. The reason for this is the 35 years of hardship Korea experienced under Japanese colonial rule. Programs such as documentaries, soap operas and entertainment programs can be produced based on general history. Also, in case of Japan, since March 1 is the day when the Korean people started their independence movement against Japanese colonial rule in 1919 and August 15 is the day Korea achieved independence from Japan in 1945, Korean broadcasting companies produce many special programs related to Japan on these days. In case of China, because many Korean-Chinese live in Shanghai and the Yanbian region and because Korean companies have recently been rushing to China, many programs about China are being made. In case of the US, since the beginning of Rho Moo-hyun’s administration, the two countries have gone through many issues such as anti-US sentiment and pro-North Korean attitudes in Korea and a trial to take War Time Operational Control (An authority to control all troops and weapons in war time in Korea) from the US to Korea. In the case of India, the two countries are now closely connected because of India’s open policy, the Indian prime minister’s visit to Korea and Korea’s support for India’s developing IT industry. In the case of Vietnam, Korean soldier fought in the Vietnam War in the past; also, relations between the two countries have dramatically improved in recent years thanks to the Vietnamese government’s open policy, the entry of Korean firms and Korean tourism in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Iraq was an important partner for Korean diplomacy in the Middle East. Korea currently has troops in Iraq. Until 1989 Germany was separated along a model similar to the one that still exists in Korea. And Mongolia and Russia are becoming close friends with Korea.

Table-1: The number of national image on Korean TV programs
Next, Table 2 is the result of detailed analysis of images of five countries in Korean TV programs.

Table 2: Five countries' images in Korean TV programs
(1) United States

With respect to images of the US, the three categories are almost equal among the total 10 cases: favorable is 35%, normal 31% and unfavorable 34%. However, considering that the US has been Korea’s closest ally to date, it is striking that unfavorable images appear more frequently than favorable ones. Since the inauguration of Rho Moo-hyun’s administration on February 25, 2002, two countries have conflicted on issues of diplomacy, the military and North Korean policies. And on June 13, 2002, a US armored vehicle killed two Korean middle school girls during military operations. After that, in December 2002, around 100,000 Koreans took the streets in front of the Seoul City Office, demanding the withdrawal of US soldiers from Korea. In 2003, when the decision that the US camp in Seoul would move to Pyeongtaek City in Gyeonggi-do Province was made, anti-US demonstrations were carried out in Seoul and Pyeongtaek. In May 2006, in Pyeongtaek, Korean people, including residents who were living in the targeted place to protect their land against the camp, were forcibly removed by Korean police.

Meanwhile, as American media released news that the US soldiers had massacred civilians at Nogunri, Chungcheongbuk-do Province, during the Korean War, anti-American demonstrations and demands for the withdrawal of US forces from Korea were running high.

With Mr. Rho’s inauguration as president, TV programs that disclose the truth about US soldiers’ wrongdoings, including their rudeness, have been produced. These programs generally do not consider the US soldiers’ function in Korea, such as restraint against North Korea. Among these programs, the prime example is the 2003 TV series “Now, We can say that..: The Victim of Ideology (POW of the Korean War)” produced by MBC-TV. In addition, there is a movie, “Welcome to Dongmakgol” (US soldiers massacred civilians who living in Dongmakgol) and “The Host” (a US soldier pollutes the Han River). Additional movies that could trigger anti-US sentiment are in the works, which is likely to have an additional negative impact on the image of the US.

(2) Japan

With respect to Japan, 24% of the images were favorable, 24% normal and 52% unfavorable. As many as 52% of respondents said unfavorable. As I made clear above, the reason why more than 50% of the images of Japan are unfavorable is the two countries’ history under the 36-year-long Japanese colonial rule. Many Korean programs, including documentaries, soap operas and historical dramas, take their contents from history because these programs are easy to make and because they provide lessons for viewers. In addition, during the weeks of March 1 and August 15, broadcasting companies in Korea tend to make special programs related to Japan. Therefore, the character and content of Korean programs about Japan show unfavorable attitudes compared with programs about the US and China. Also, during the weeks marking the two days, special programs on “the 100-year anniversary of the Russia-Japan war” in 2004 and “the 60th anniversary of the Japanese annexation of Korea” in 2005 were produced. Furthermore, sensitive issues between the two countries have recently come to the surface, for example, the distortion of history textbooks published by Fusosha Publishing Company in 2004 and the designation of Dokdo (or Takeshima, an islet between two countries) Day by Shimane Prefecture on May 23, 2005.

In particular, since Junichiro Koizumi was inaugurated as Japan’s prime minister in 2001, the case of his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the country’s war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals, has emerged as a critical issue between two countries. So it is not too much say that 2006 is one of the worst of recent years in the two countries’ relations.

Diplomatic conflicts between two countries show on news programs as well as on soap operas, documentaries and special programs. For example, in August 2004, the EBS-TV program, “The Koreans who should not be came back, History never is forgotten and never be buried” is about individuals forced into the war and into battlefield labor in China, Russia, Hawaii and Singapore under Japanese colonial rule. That negative program on Japan was followed, on March 2, 2005, by the KBS-2TV’s program, “In-Depth 60 Minutes—‘Designation of Takesima Day: What Is Japan’s Purpose?’ ” and in May 2005, by a two-part special documentary program by MBC, “Nanjing Massacre—Reflection on Human Evil.”

Meanwhile, there are positive programs such as SBS-TV’s “Robot Age” in October 2004 and “Aging Shock,” MBC-TV’s “The Root of Japanese Ceramic Ware Is Korean (Chosun) China” in 2004, and KBS-TV’s “Foreign Reporters in Korea Speak about Korean Culture and Broadcasting” in September 2005. Now there is one significant point. In the Korean mindset, the image of “Japan,” “Japanese” and “Japanese products” are very different. That is, “Japan” arouses negative images like Japanese colonial rule, the arbitrary arrests of Koreans, exploitation politics and imperialism. But “Japanese” gives rise to positive image of honor, diligence and kind people. “Japanese products” calls to mind images of high-quality products that anyone would want to purchase. Therefore Korean programs that introduce Japanese law, systems, institutions and group show favorable images.

(3) China

Since diplomatic relations between Korea and China were established on August 24, 1992, trade volume between the two countries has dramatically increased; personal exchanges including Korean-Chinese have increased as well. Meanwhile, recently, because of Korean companies’ rush into China, trade conflicts have occurred. Thus far, there has been no single pressing issue between Korea and China. But recently some issues have emerged. For example, the problem of imported Kimchi with parasite eggs from China, the Chinese government’s handling of North Korean defectors and the issue of six-way talks to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear program. Even more recently, the historic issue of Dong-buk-gonh-jung (China’s five-year research program on Northeast Asia claiming historical sovereignty over Goguryeo, the ancient Korean kingdom that between 37 B.C. and A.D. 668 ruled much of Manchuria, north of the Korean Peninsula, that is now part of Chinese territory) initiated by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been attracting people’s attention.

The favorable TV programs in Korea about China are MBC-TV’s “MBC Special-‘Saying Leadership’: The Story of Mao Zedong” in August 2004 and KBS-1TV’s “Promising Conditions for Korean Companies in China” in August 2005. An unfavorable program is the MBC-TV documentary, “Finding History: About Dong-buk-gong-jung,” which aired on March 10 and on October 23, 2004.

(4) Vietnam

The favorable program in Korea on Vietnam is KBS-2TV’s “Drama City,” which aired in September 2006, and the unfavorable one is SBS-TV’s “What Was Left by the Bride from Hanoi,” which aired in September 2005. During the Vietnam War, Korea dispatched its soldiers to Vietnam. As a result, many mixed-blood children were born. Therefore, there is a lot of Korea-related information in Vietnam compared with other countries. Since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992, Korean companies have participated in construction project in Vietnam. Also, Vietnamese young people go to Korea to learn technology through the industrial training program. Korea was involved in the Vietnam War at the request of the US, but after the war, many programs to effect reconciliation between two countries have been established. Because of these efforts, there are many favorable depictions of Vietnam on Korean TV programs.

(5) India

Recently, thanks to the open policy of the Indian government, the Korea-India relationship is growing closer. In particular, with exchanges through the IT industry, trade volume is increasing. The favorable TV programs about India are MBC-TV’s “The First Step of Recording Humanity’s Cultural Heritage” which aired in September 2004, and SBS-TV’s “Focus on India.”

4. Understanding of international relations and continued efforts to solve problems

As we can see from this study, among the unfavorable images in Korean TV program, the number of unfavorable images about the US and Japan exceeds the number of favorable ones In particular, Japan has twice as many unfavorable images as favorable ones. This indicates that relations between the two countries are difficult. In addition, images of China are more negative than they were in the past. Thus, the images of the US, China and Japan on Korean TV programs are very similar to current diplomatic and political relations among the countries. In particular, after the Rho Moo-hyun administration, relations between Korea and the US and Japan worsened. Korea and the US have undergone mutual conflicts on several issues such as president Rho’s support for an independent national defense policy, the relocation of US camps in Korea, revising SOFA and solutions on North Korea’s development of nuclear programs. Recently, in Korea, public opinion is divided over the disbanding of ROK-US Combined Forces Command and regaining wartime control of troops.

Against this backdrop, as they reflect the current situation, KBS and MBC excessively bring up the case of friendly fire by the US Army during the Korean War and wrongful military actions carried out by the US in the name of reform programs. As a result, many programs highlighting negative perspectives on the US are being made. In case of Japan, policies to clear up problems like the rights of people who made fortunes serving the Japanese colonial government to regain their wealth have been proceeding without preparation. This policy is an emerging political issue, one that arises out of social conflict.

Since Koizumi took office in 2001, the two countries’ relations have been deteriorating to the point that an official summit can’t be held. For example, Korea does not yield a single point about the Japanese government’s distortion of history textbooks, the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s claim of ownership over the islet Dokdo. In addition, on the question of preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and on the issue of Japanese being kidnapped by North Korea, Korea and Japan are widening their mistrust, showing major differences.

Meanwhile, China’s military expansion and its growing economic scale may trigger tensions between Korea and China. China is trying to incorporate the history of the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo into its national history in the research project Dong-buk-gong-jung. These changes are part of China’s plan to justify its claim to the permanent ownership of the land that was once Goguryeo.

First of all, to overcome current problems, each country needs to reflect on itself, respect its counterparts, understand international relations based on lesson from past history, and make constructive policy changes in a direction of mutual friendship. Also, countries should refrain from regarding other countries as being driven solely by self-interest. In the relationship between Korea and Japan, between Korea and the US and between Korea and China, exchanges among ordinary people, including researchers, are smooth. But in the diplomatic and political sector, there are continued conflicts and frictions. In particular, unfortunately, emotional remarks from politicians tend to create a stir, which leads the good results brought about made by ordinary people to crumble. In particular, the mindset of political leaders who want to gain domestic political support on the basis of populism must be stopped. President Rho, President Bush and newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must refrain from political remarks to gain popularity from the public. These remarks are too likely to raise tension among nations. In the meantime, each country’s intellectuals should give advice in a decisive manner from a neutral point of view without becoming involved in the political situation.

But in this situation, what is most important is the reporting attitude of the media. The media must take a cautious and objective approach toward an impulsive remark, which is likely to have bad impact on countries’ friendship, from any political leader, including President Rho and Prime Minister Abe. That is, the media is in a strong position to issue a rebuke when political leaders’ remarks may raise tensions among countries. Therefore, when TV programs such as news, soap operas and documentaries show images of foreign countries, they must refrain from releasing impromptu reports without objective data and professional analysis. Also, if there are positive and commendable points about a foreign country, the media should not be stingy in reporting these points.

Finally, with increasing exchanges in the private sector, including among researchers, we need to set up systematic measures to alleviate shocks from surprising remarks and to stop careless action on the part of politicians. For example, we should consider establishing “Korea-Japan Broadcasting and Culture Study Committee” to propose remedies by continuously studying the national image in both countries’ TV programs. Through this kind of study committee, we can propose a future-oriented reporting attitude in both countries’ TV programs.

Yeon Lee

Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sun Moon University, South Korea

Lee Yeon is Professor at Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sun Moon University, Korea. He obtained his Ph.D. in Journalism in 1991 from Jochi University, Tokyo. He started his teaching career at Sun Moon University in 1992, where he has been posted the Dean of Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Head of the University's Central Library, Dean of Faculty of Social Studies. His publications include "Korean History of Speech Control" (Shinzan-sha, Tokyo 2002), "Structure of Soccer Culture" (Douwa Shoin, Tokyo 2004), "Mass Media and East Asia in Post-Cold War Era" (Gakubun-sha, Tokyo 2005), "Global Society and Media" (Minerva Shoten, Kyoto 2003).

Past Symposiums

Copyright Japan Media Communication Center All rights reserved. Unauthorized copy of these pages is prohibited.