Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Korea's National Image

The current flood of images of anti-American beef protests, candlelight vigils and meat-processing plants in the U.S. has implications for South Korea's national image. However, these new images will become part of a larger context which, cumulatively, shapes Korea's national image. A few archive searches on Google News, can give us a very rough idea of the predominant images that Korea is projecting these days, wittingly or unwittingly. Google News is a computer-generated news site that aggregates headlines from more than 4,500 English-language news sources worldwide. As such, it is one of the more comprehensive sources of world news media attention patterns currently available. This is not to suggest that it is a comprehensive measure, especially since Google news crawls only English sources.
To start with, I did a Google archive search for "Korea broadband revolution" (without the quotes) It produces results like the first graphic included here (click on the graphics to enlarge). A search for "Korea broadband" produces very similar results. For the first seven and a half years of the 21st century, news media around the world paid attention to South Korea as the world leader in broadband networks.
Another image of Korea conveyed by media around the world has to do with North Korea's nuclear development. As shown in the second graphic here, world media attention to this story line started during the Clinton Administration's negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s. High levels of attention then resumed during the Bush administration, both before and after North Korea's 2006 nuclear test.
The summer Olympic Games are traditionally the world's largest planned television and media event, and that was particularly the case for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. South Korea seized on the opportunity of hosting the Games to open up political communication with China, the Soviet Union and many socialist countries of Eastern Europe. The spike in international media attention to Korea surrounding the Seoul Olympics is vividly shown on the time line produced by a Google News archive search.
The division of Korea is today the world's last vestige of the World War II and Cold War era. For more than half a century, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea has been a prominent part of Korea's national image. The truce village an Panmunjom has long been a popular tourist destination and a mandatory backdrop for television coverage whenever a U.S. president or other high-level official visited Korea. In an important sense, the 1988 Seoul Olympics were a "coming-out party" for South Korea, with considerable emphasis on its electronics industry. We can safely say that, prior to the Seoul Olympics, South Korean electronics companies like Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics or Hynix, were relatively unknown around the world. Today that has changed, as shown by a recent poll of opinion leaders by The Corea Image Communication Institute, a Seoul-based organization that aims to promote positive images of Korea overseas. The Institute surveyed 139 foreign ``opinion leaders'' including diplomats, journalists, academics and businesspeople who have visited Korea or are currently staying in the country. When asked about Korea's best-known image, nearly half of all respondents picked indigenous corporate brands such as Samsung and LG, and Korea's Information Technology business. Another well-known image associated with Korea was the North Korea issue. More than 26 percent of those polled said Korea was ``best known" for the continuing nuclear standoff between the South and North. (see Korea Times article on the poll) Once again, a Google news archive search on "Samsung Electronics" suports the notion that it has contributed substantially to South Korea's national image over the past two decades.

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