Failure of Media to Influence Social Change on Korean Nepotism

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Failure of Media to Influence Social Change on Korean Nepotism

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Failure of Media to Influence Social Change on Korean Nepotism


The Korean football team had participated six times in the World Cup since the 1954 finals in Switzerland without any hope of reaching the second round. They waited 48 years, then finally broke the disillusionment on their home ground on 14 June 2002. Three and half million people gathered on the streets throughout nation to support, pray and celebrate the joy of victory over Portugal. Many eyes were filled with tears. Koreans were especially supportive of their miracle maker Dutch coach, Mr. Guus Hiddink. What made it all possible?

More than anything else he broke cultural traits inherent in the Korean team. He recognized the division among the players who were hardly communicating with each other because they were maintaining respect for older players. Hiddink’s observation as an outsider made his analysis more logical. “Even on the field, Hiddink has changed the soccer style of Korean team which has been used all time for the national team.” (

Korean Christians need a cultural transformation touching their lifestyles, patterns of thought, values, and perspectives in order to integrate them into the global Christian culture, and revitalize their Christian practice. They would do well to discard ‘the pastoral inheritance from the father to son’. This backward tradition in the Korean Church has discouraged many Christians and poured cold water upon the aspiration of cultural transformation. When it occurred in a Korean Presbyterian Church a few years ago, it was a critical moment for the media to play a major role. Alas! The media did not measure up to the task.

In January 2000, the issue was blown into the open when thugs, hired by some members of the church, attacked a pastor who had inherited the leadership from his father. However, while there was still debate on the issue, a mainline Methodist Church in Seoul was planning to follow the Presbyterian example.

Media Report

The Kwanglim Methodist Church appointed as their next pastor the 40-year-old son of Kim Seon-do, who had led the church since 1971. Originally a small church of 200 members it now has over 80,000 registered believers. However, when the news of a father-to-son succession was revealed, many people criticized the decision so much that the church's Internet site had to be closed for a while.

One of the leading daily newspapers in Korea, Chuson Ilbo-covered this “hot potato” issues of 25.08.2000, 06.10.2000, and 25.03 2001. The first news coverage offered an impartial forum for public exchange between the opposing groups and the church leadership. The second was a report based on an interview with an ethics professor at the National University. The person who was interviewed was strongly against the church being made the personal possession of a pastor or family, saying it was synonymous with greed. Nevertheless, the installation ceremony passing the leadership from father to son went ahead. Then the third report appeared as this:
There was an installation service in Kwanglim Methodist Church. His co-workers and congregation held the service to congratulate him for his retirement from 30 years of work, and for the installation of his son as the pastor of the church. The congregation was very excited and pleased to receive all of the visitors. The church and churchyard was filled with flowers, sent by many other Christian leaders. On the other hand, across the street stood picketers. They were silently protesting the patrimonial handing down of leadership. The signs said that this change of leadership was the tragedy of the Korean church. They declared that the church doesn’t belong to man, but rather to God. Nevertheless, the ceremony went smoothly, without any disruptions, but…(Lee )

The Chosun’s reports were objective and sufficient on the facts. Nevertheless, they only scratched the surface in that while they reported the facts truthfully, they did not give analytical treatment of the problem of churches becoming personal possessions, and so did not provide an opinion on an important subject. “The end of journalism itself, is hardly disputed and it is unsurprising that differences in coverage reflect differences in social values and commitments.” (Kieran 1998: 30)

Therefore the Chosun’s report raised a few ethical questions:
1. Is it sufficient when covering public controversies to simply report the facts accurately and fairly?
2. Does the practice of objective reporting distance reporters from the substance of their stories in ways contrary to the ideals of responsible journalism?
3. If reporters serve as the eyes and ears of their readers, how can they be expected to report more than what they’ve heard or seen?

Denis Mcquail defined media as a “power resource” (1999: 1) that channels discussion and is an innovation of the changing culture and values of the society. But the Chosun’s report did not provide any discussion channel on the issue.

Culturally, Korean people may accept such inheritance because our Confucian culture does not encourage ethical appraisal. In Confucian culture, parents are willing to do anything for their children’s sake, and children take it for granted because they in turn look after their parents until death. In a society where there is inadequate social welfare, inheritance of power may be widely accepted as a good thing. Nevertheless, we Christians, knowing not to submit to secular culture, look to create a Biblical culture based on ethical values. The pastoral inheritance practice fails to show the ethical values of the Christian life. Therefore Chosun Ilbo should have considered the consequences when the reports were written. Though the churches have failed to guide Korean society morally, people expect that the media would be able to provide a moral vision using proper ethical examples.

I do not want to criticize Chosun’s report while the church has failed (I feel shame as Korean pastor) but the media as the, “fourth estate due to its influence and power” (Block 2001: 289) should apply the teleological or consequence-related theory which would bring about the most happiness or, “the greatest good to the greatest number of people”.(Gorden 1999: 16).
The father of Utilitarianism, Bentham, said, “morality was more than loyalty to abstract rules and even more than pleasing God; it was nothing less than an attempt to maximize the happiness in the world.” (Ibid: 16)

According to Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, happiness is the ultimate good for man. Every craftsman must pursue the highest happiness for man, and to identify happiness with honor is virtue. The canon of Christ Church, Oxford R.C. Mortimer defines virtue as “good habit.” (1947: 101) Virtue is a habit of right action. Moral virtue is defined by Aquinas as bona qualitas mentis qua recte vivitur, qua nullus male utitur: a good habit of the mind productive of good living and incapable of abuse. (Ibid:102) Aquinas also states that virtue overcomes difficulties; “Virtue is about the difficult and the good: whence it seems to follow that the greater virtue is about what is more difficult.” (Bowlin 1999: 155)

According to Nicomachean ethics habitual virtue builds a moral person and right action. “Virtue ethics flows both from the nature of the act itself and the moral character of the person who acts.” (Patterson & Wilkins 1998: 7) Therefore, pastoral inheritance, though it may be accepted culturally, is unethical, because the Church is not a possession of the pastor or son.

The press, with its freedom, has a ‘duty’ to inform the public. “This duty is often expressed in terms of the “public’s right to know” in a democratic society. (Frost 2000:23) In a democratic society, people need to be reasonably well informed so that they participate actively in social trends or activity. And the journalist’s prime objective “is the discovery, disclosure, and analysis of the information.” (Ibid: 28) In this case, Chosun Ilbo did not reflect the Kantian ethical model.

There is also the loyalty question. “To whom will I be loyal?”(Patterson and Wilkins 1998:92). To Socrates, loyalty meant a “willingness to die” for a cause. (Ibid: 92) American theologian Josiah Royce defined loyalty as a social act: “The willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.” (Ibid: 93) In Royce’s view, loyalty is an act of choice, and develops in a person’s habits through continual exercise.

“Potter Box” ethical examples

According to ‘Potter’ the journalists should understand ‘the facts’, outlining the values inherent in the decision, applying relevant philosophical principles, and articulating a loyalty. There are four practical steps, which the Chosun’s report did not properly apply.

Step one: the newspaper editor has the information: pastoral inheritance. His ethical choice rests with how much of it he is going to print.

Step two: values on patrimonial installation were a measurement of spiritual and ethical maturity of the Korean Church. People can value everything from their perspective, in ethics; however, when we value something we give up other things. The journalist should value truth above all things, and take a risk for that value. Therefore, as a journalist, the Chosun’s report needed to take a risk for the sake of truth.

Step three: Once they have decided what the value is, then they need to apply the philosophical principles. A Utilitarian may argue why they don’t apply the teleological or consequence-related theory which would bring about the most happiness or, “the greatest good to the greatest number of people”.(Gorden 1999: 16) Some may argue, if it is not able to use teleological ethics why not used the deontological ethics in Kantian Absolutism. “Kant’s ethical theory is based on the notion that it is the act itself, rather than the person who acts, in which moral force resides.” (Patterson & Wilkins 1998: 8) Consequences are not to be considered. The essential principle is duty, rules. There should be an absolute principle, and people, rationally, should follow it or be guided by it.

The person who follows them is ethical; the one who does not follow is unethical. This is implied obligation. Duties-do such-and-such are categorical not hypothetical. Being an ethical person, in Kant’s view is to live by absolute rules, universal law, and moral principles without exception; everywhere. “Have a deep respect for human dignity and act toward others only in ways you would want everyone to act. Not a bad formula for the media person trying to make an ethical decision.” (Gordon & Kittross 1999: 17)

According to those models, in the media coverage on ‘the pastoral inheritance’ habitual virtue and essential principle were not reflected.

The media should have used their freedom of expression to discern and critic the issue and lead action against it among the Korean people. For although such a practice may be accepted based on our culture, cultural trends are rapidly transforming to expectations shaped by a global culture.

Step four: Articulation of loyalties. Potter viewed loyalty as a social commitment. The media has a “fundamental duty to be impartial” [neutral] (Kieran 1998: 23) but its function is to report and evaluate the events that affect our lives as members of society. The events are significantly independent of us, but the journalist should have a loyalty to telling the truth, to alerting the community to a potential danger. It was not just a case of conflict with one another, but the ethical truth the society needs to know. Chosun’s profession, (even they did well for their job), should highly criticize on its ethical decisions, because it allowed the majority to become arbitrarily influenced without ethical codes and bias.

The media is viewed, not as having a distinct influence, which allows particular texts to generate particular effects, but rather as putting a set of ideas into circulation, as normalizing a set of practices and attitudes, representing ‘common sense.’ “This common sense is not without its contradictions and ambiguities. It does not contain a straightforward message; it is open to competing interpretation, but it sets limits: It does not admit of an infinite range of readings.” (John Street 2001: 97)

As conclusion I want to use Noelle-Neumann’s ‘spiral of silence’. (Mcquail 1999: 361) Chosun’s report failed to format a prevailing view (public opinion) to threaten the Church. The church perceived that there is no prevailing media climate on the issue, so the fear of isolation was minimum. Therefore the Church ignored the public view and practiced the pastoral inheritance without any ethical challenge. As a result, many other churches that had similar cases were able to follow their footsteps without any fear of isolation. Even my church practiced it. However, they should remember how they responded when the North Korean leader, Kim Jung Il, inherited the power from his father –Kim Il Sung. All the media, even all the church leaders, heavily criticized this event. The ‘pastoral inheritance’ from father to son is exactly same incident as the North Korean case. So then, on what basis can they criticize North Korea?


A. David Gordon & John Michael Kittross (1999) Controversies in Media Ethics. Longman, USA

A. I. Melden (1955) Ethical Theories. Prentice Hall, USA

Chris, Frost (2000) Media Ethics. Pearson Education Limited, Singapore.

Danis McQuail (1994) Mass Communication Theory. Sage, London.

John Bowlin (1999) Contingency and Fortune in Aquinas’ Ethics. Cambridge, UK.

John Street (2001) Mass Media. Politics and Democracy, Palgrave, China.

Mattew Kieran (1998) Media Ethics. Routledge, London.

Peter Block (2001) Managing in the Media. Focal Press, Oxford.

Philip Patterson & Lee Wilkins (1998) Media Ethics. Mcgraw Hill, USA.

R. C. Mortimer (1947) The Elements of Moral theology. Adam & Charles Black, London.


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