Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Korean publisher tells of community challenges

By Steve Chae: Pacific Media Centre

A Korean community newspaper publisher says his readers are not yet ready to talk about their issues and problems openly in the media.

Newstoon is one of the many free weekly Korean community newspapers that can be picked up in Korean shops around Auckland.

Publisher Bong il Kim says participation of the Korean community and university students in the discussion about issues they have raised has been disappointing.

“As a newsmaker, this is frustrating,” he says.

Eric Song, last year’s president of Auckland University Korean Student Association (AKSA), says “there is a distinct cultural difference between Koreans who grew up most of their lives here - also called 1.5 generation Korean-Kiwis (or Kowis) - and second generation Koreans who have lost much of their Korean identity.”

“They inhabit a different world of news and value news differently,” he says.

“As a student association, it is a challenge to represent all these different groups, but we are trying.”

Korean community newspapers are all in the Korean language and this can be hard for those who have grown up here surrounded by English-based media.

“You can call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in seeing Korean in print to be important to our community - young or old,” says Kim.

He says: “We would like younger Koreans to communicate with the older folks more to create a family-like community.”

“However, this is not the case at the moment. There have been efforts to bridge generational differences through newspapers online and offline.”

“Participation of younger Korean students in the community media has been rather unremarkable,” he says.

Online editor of AKSA Sion Hwang says: “Our university webzine, Cladia, should represent all voices but we need more participation from students.”

The president of Korean Society of New Zealand, Shi Chung Yoo, understands why these issues are not discussed openly in the media.

“It is because Koreans are not forthcoming with news. We still tend to keep it to ourselves,” he says.

The president of Kowiana Association, Tina Hwang, thinks the Korean newspapers are targeting their parents’ generation which gives them information about what 1.5 generation Koreans are doing, but says “it lacks an informative approach to a local story”.

“If an issue was raised involving Korean person’s crime, the legal system in New Zealand should be explained to give a more plausible story,” she adds.

Kim says his newspaper aims to learn about New Zealand in its mainstream system.

Majority power
He says: “Korean media here was borne out of our need to learn about New Zealand government systems. We consider an exchange with Pākehā to be still the most important.”

This follows the power of majority in shaping the media.

He says Korean community needs to be more embedded into the New Zealand society.

“The strength of the community would grow and we would claim our rights with a stronger voice,” he says.

This is echoed by Korea Post journalist Kang Jin Lee, who says there is no authorisation for ethnic community media reporters to report on news independently.

Korea Post is a Korean community magazine and is published monthly.

As its sole reporter, she says: “We are very limited in what we can report. First, we don’t have authorisation like other media bodies to gain access to Parliament and such. Second, we don’t have resources to fund such reporting.”

Kim says: “The business has been in downturn for the past five years.”

Since September 2002, immigration from Korea has been almost blocked.

But he says it was not until 2004 when businesses providing for international students were hit the hardest.

Advertising from these Korean businesses was the sole source of revenue for the newspaper’s operation.

He says there are still 13 Korean media outlets in New Zealand, including newspapers, magazines and radio. They cover similar local New Zealand stories.

Identity crisis
He says Korean community newspapers are produced by the first generations like him.

They have spent most of their lives in Korea and have come to New Zealand with their families.
The generation of his children are part of the 1.5 Kowis.

Hwang says the issue of identity crisis for her and others like herself was what formed the Kowiana Association.

Formed in 2007, it held its first Kimchi & Marmite conference last July.

She says the aim of the organisation is to give confidence to Kowi students who have grown up in New Zealand for most of their lives.

Asked whether she wanted these issues to be brought up in Korean community media, she says "to broaden the issue will take time".

President Yoo says: “It’s hard to resolve those issues and conflicts for the Korean community at the moment and I believe the Korean media is reluctant to tackle those issues yet.”

“The association is about encouraging young Koreans to be more self-confident about who they are and what they do and we are here to give support.”

That is why the theme of this year’s conference is based on inviting guest speakers who have paved a way for fellow Koreans outside of traditional jobs such as doctors and lawyers.
It is scheduled for July 11.

“It’s about using the opportunity living in New Zealand provides and using it fully,” she says.

“It’s also about bridging the gap between different multicultural groups but also within Koreans and between different generations.”

Pictured: Bong il Kim holding copies of Newstoon, one of many Korean weekly newspapers published in Auckland. Photo: Steve Chae. Steve Chae is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course.

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