Diversification of ethnicity on South Korean television

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Racism in South Korea has been recognized specifically by the media in the country as a widespread social challenge. The increase in immigrants into the country since the year 2000 has catalyzed an overt expression of racism and criticism by the natives on those who are from other countries. The media has been covering these expression via their various outlets. The newspapers are frequently reporting on racism cases and criticizing discrimination against immigrants who face lower paid wages that are below the set minimum wages of the country, withholding of salaries by government agencies, unsafe working environments for workers who are from other nations, physical abuse in workplaces and the general denigration from public (Campbell, 2015). In a survey conducted from 2010 to 2014 by the World Value Survey, 44.2 percent of the South Koreans reported that they would prefer not to live with any foreign neighbors in their country. These racist feelings are in most cases expressed towards immigrants who originate from Asia countries and Africa. The attitudes are less directed on European and white North American Immigrants that are occasionally treated with kind treatments. Similar discrimination is reported with relation to kids from mixed race, Chinese Korean origin and North Korean immigrants (Kim, 2016).

The government of South Korea has acted on the matter to reduce this discrimination trend in the country through enforcement of two important laws. These legislations include the Foreign Workers’ Employment Act (2004) and the Support for Multicultural Families (2008).They have improved the situation of workers originating from other countries through the protection of their human rights and labor rights. In the Korean military several moves have been reported through the media that indicated the efforts of reducing the racism challenge even in the military. The military abandoned the laws that prevented mixed-race individuals from enlisting and thus changed the oath of enlistment to not refer racial purity commonly known as minjok to citizen in the nation.In the schools, the government through education agencies have withdrawn similar concepts that challenged full participation of student from foreign nations or mixed races .The school curricular was accredited with the pressure from international parties and specific concerns from the United Nation committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination  that advocated for persistent ethnic-centric thinking in the nation that was describes as an obstacle to the realization of equal treatment and respect for individuals from other nations and those originating from different races and cultures .In the year 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee recommended  introduction of an anti-discrimination law in South Korea though as of 2016 the government has not proposed a similar bill for consideration due to lack of consensus from the public in the country ( Park, 2014).

Observing the several examples of diversity presentation on the Korean Television programs, this paper present an argument where television facilitates airing of ideologies about race where related issues are reinforced and challenged at the same time. The case introduces the types of issues that researchers have focused on when representing race in the media, explaining the narrow ranges of tropes in which the minority groups such as foreigners are represented. The paper describes that through the television, it addresses the neglected area in television production so as to identify the ways where the minority group is constrained. The paper finally consider the impacts of new digital platforms explaining whether they truly represent a liberating space for the small races in the country.

The Media efforts through Televisions

The study of race and the media broadly utilizes television and broadcasting as a key site where the politics of race can be addressed. It can be in the contest of public service broadcasting with its remit to serve for the diversity of the nation’s community or commercial sphere that majorly focus with factors such as ratings, press and target markets that determine the programs to commission. The broadcasting about race and multiculturalism is a highly contested and fraught sector. Through the televisions, the media has the power to talk about race and challenge any activity related to discrimination of individuals in the country on basis of their originating nation. The media in the country through television has shown to embrace these efforts of embracing foreigners in their news platforms, television programs and shows. This indicates that the media is positively working towards elimination of the racism challenge that has been affecting the Korean nation for long. There are several examples that indicate these efforts. The first one is a post in the Korean the Kyunghyang Shinmum that explains how foreigners have been able to dominate the TV shows in the country (Campbell, 2015). A KBS drama on teenagers of Moorim school, is a show premiered on January 11 that draw the attention of most viewers since the day it was announced to be aired on a common television channel of the country. The show contains two famous foreigners as actors namely Sam Okyere and Daniel Lindemann. The former is from Ghana whereas the latter is a Germany citizen .These two actor gained popularity since their appearance in JTBC’s Non-Summit and are currently working as television personalities in Korea.

Another clear example of involvement of the media in elimination of racism through television platforms was that of Dennis Christen who was an U.S soldier stationed in Korea. This actor spoke fluent Korean and played the roles of conductor Strauss, the English teacher and a foreign missionary in Bukcheong Muljangsun of 1981, KBS. He also played the role of an instructor in the Diary of a High school student of 1984, KBS. During his time, he played the role of a ‘foreigner” because other roles were limited. MBC produced a drama named Hanhinsaem in the National Liberation Day special that feature foreign actors such as Frank P.Nellen as a German teacher at the University of Konkuk and   Alvarado who features as Appenzeller in the MBC everyday English (Kim, 2016). Foreigner have been seen to expand their boundaries through their involvements in much bigger television shows, government projects and programs in the country. Lee Charm, formerly called Bernhard Quandt, is a German who later became a citizen of South Korea and served as the head of the Korean Tourism Organization. He made big contributions to the show biz industry in Korea by encouraging foreign actor to participate in programs that were aired in the Korean televisions (Park, 2014).

Research and Representation of Race in Media

Most research conducted in this area has seen many South Korean citizens complaining about the growing intolerance against foreigners in their nation. A recent article on the Korean Herald exposed an encounter of a foreigner with direct discrimination in a multicultural area where he was forced to stay out of the area because he couldn’t communicate in Korean. The reason behind this discrimination was that the joint only accepted those who could communicate in Korean because the owner of the place did not understand the English language (World Values Survey, 2014). Another memorable event was in 2014 when African expatriates in South Korea were denied the access into a pub located at Itaewon, in Seoul. The reason behind the act was that Ebola virus was being experienced in Africa thus no African could mingle with the rest for the moment. Such examples indicate the racism challenge that is still facing the South Korean nation (Park, 2014).

The media has also been trying to expose these cases to the general public and international parties so as to clear to the whole world what foreigners in South Korea have been going through. Many of the foreigners in the country are complaining about the rise anti-foreigner sentiments that exist among the ethnic Koreans in the country (Kim,2016). The media has associated this rise with the lack of anti-discrimination laws to govern such incidents in the nation. An article published by the chairperson of Korean studies at the Washington-based Brooking institution on Dr.Katharine H.S.Moon findings, explains that the cases are increasing day after day because the discriminatory behaviors do not draw legal consequences (Shin, 2006). In addition to that, she explains that public awareness on issues regarding to racism and discrimination in the country is absent and any efforts propelled to ensure legislations are passed to protect individuals faced with this problem have so far failed. A case that garnered the attention on the public through television broadcasts was that of an Indian researcher Bonojit Hussain who presented a claim on racial accost by an ethnic-Korean man in the year 2009.This case was covered in the media to increase the pressure on the law authorities and the government so as to solve this problem that was been experienced by many foreigners who were hiding the abuses they encounter in the country. However, even with this much coverage, the case was ultimately dropped as any other anti-discrimination case that faced negative pressures from hostile organizations such as the right-wing Christian group that threatened  politicians who supported any anti-discrimination law (Kim, 2016).

The Television and the minority Representation

The media through the television has proved to show diversity where actors from other countries are given the chance to participate in Korean Show and programs. Through this platform, the television has shown its first efforts of ensuring that foreigners are not discriminated from securing jobs in Korean controlled agencies such as the media (Kines,2012). Through these efforts the unrepresented minority group has a group in the broadcasting sector that can air their views and expose the challenges that are faced by foreigners living in South Korea. However, this is not enough taking the fact that even with the much coverage of cases on racism the number of reported cases on discrimination is still rising. This calls for an alternative technique that will reach out to the entire Korean population, advocating for change in the area (Kim, 2016).

The media through televisions should address the much neglected production that will mostly cover issues of the minority races that are constrained. This can be achieved by accepting to air programs that are produced from other countries such as those in Asia and Africa. These programs and show have actors from foreign countries who utilize foreign languages such s English and French. When these shows are aired in the country, the Korean people will slowly get used to socializing with people from other nations. This technique will facilitate the relative ethano-national and linguistic homogeneity in the nation that has been lacking for long time (Campbell, 2015). Moreover, the television platforms can incorporate programs that will cover drama on cases of discrimination, their consequences on the diversity of people in a particular nation and their impacts to international relations. Such television programs will create more public awareness to the public on the importance of accepting the minority group that is currently facing a lot of challenges as it tries to intermingle with the natives (Shin, 2006).

Impacts on new digital platforms

The current digital platforms have improved the efforts that are geared towards representation of a liberated space for the minority races in the country to tell stories on the experience of the minority group in South Korea. Media platforms such as online blogs accept article written by readers all around the world on different experiences and post them on their platforms for other online users to read and comment (Shin, 2012). The minority group can now reach out to such platforms and post their story on encounter with racism acts in the nation for individuals in their country to view and be aware of when planning to visit this nation. Online platform such as twitter enable a user to post a direct link containing a recorded video, act or article on discrimination and immediately tag the government, embassy and international agencies who can act with respect to the laws on human right. Digital platform have enable the minority groups to share their experience in Korea whenever they experience an act of discrimination. Through these platforms evidence on an act of racism can be shared internationally to attract attention of human right courts around the world that can pressure for justice to be observed by the Korean courts (Watson, 2010).


The media platforms in the country have addressed the issue of racism, discrimination and poor representation of the minority group in South Korea through facilitating foreign actors in their programs and as television personalities. However, there is still more room for the media to help in ensuring that the public is made aware of the negative impacts of discrimination on the nation’s relation with international partners. Digital platforms and social media channels should be utilized by the minority group in the country to share their experience with other individuals across the globe and international agencies that can provide aid on the issue.

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  1. Campbell, Emma (2015), “The end of ethnic nationalism? Changing conceptions of national identity and belonging among young South Koreans”, Nations & Nationalism, 21 (3): 483–502, doi:10.1111/nana.12120
  2. Kim, Yugyun; Son, Inseo; Wie, Dainn; et al. (19 Jul 2016), “Don’t ask for fair treatment? A gender analysis of ethnic discrimination, response to discrimination, and self-rated health among marriage migrants in South Korea”, International Journal for Equity in Health, 15 (1)
  3. Kim, N. (2016). Naturalizing Korean ethnicity and making ‘ethnic’ difference: a comparison of North Korean settlement and foreign bride incorporation policies in South Korea. Asian Ethnicity, 17(2), pp.185-198.
  4. Kines, S. (2012). The Viability Of English Television Programs Inside Of South Korean Classrooms. Journal of International Education Research (JIER), 8(3), p.183.
  5. Park, Keumjae (2014), “Foreigners or multicultural citizens? Press media’s construction of immigrants in South Korea”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37 (9): 1565–1586, doi:10.1080/01419870.2012.758860
  6. Schmid, Andre (2002). Korea between Empires. Columbia University Press.
  7. Shin, Gi-Wook (2006). Ethnic Nationalism in Korea. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. Retrieved April 15, 2017.
  8. Shin, Gi Wook (1 November 2012). “Racist South Korea? Diverse but not tolerant of diversity”. In Rotem Kowner; Walter Demel. Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions. BRILL. p. 369. ISBN 90-04-23729-1.
  9. Watson, I. (2010), Multiculturalism in South Korea: A Critical Assessment. Journal of Contemporary Asia, Page 337-346
  10. “World Values Survey (2010-2014)”. World Values Survey Association. 2015-04-18. p. 72. Retrieved 2017-04-15.
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