In Tense Times, South Korea Journalists Walking a Fine Line

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Marco Werman: Now to that other source of concern in Asia, North Korea. The North Korean regime seems bent on doing something new each day to raise tensions further. Today it warned foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it cannot guarantee their safety after April 10 and suggested they leave. North Korea has been threatening to attack the US and South Korea in response to what it calls "the increased threat from the United States." Yesterday we heard how South Koreans aren't really paying much attention to North Korea's rhetoric. Today we want to find out how South Korean TV news is reporting the crisis. June Chang is a news anchor at KBS World, one of the biggest broadcasters in South Korea. KBS receives funding from the South Korean government, but it's independently managed. June, are the current tensions with North Korea at the top of news on every one of your broadcasts these days?

June Chang: Actually, it's on the top of the news for all the broadcasters in South Korea. The government is taking this situation very, very seriously. We are distributing the news as soon as we get a hold of the information, but of course the information that we're getting, because it's very security sensitive, we can't release everything, or we can't get a hold of all the information, but we are trying to release what we can. We're trying not to feed into the North Koreans' mindset of wanting more attention. Also.

Werman: But if people want to know what the news is, why not give them the straight facts?

Chang: Well, we are giving them the straight facts. We also have a radio news that we provide at our station, and we are giving information on North Korea. It's not in depth, it's not very detailed, but we are giving highlights as to what's going on. In our radio news there is a significant amount of North Korean stories.

Werman: So is the South Korean government playing any role in how you're covering this really big and quite sensitive story?

Chang: Well, President Park Geun-hye, South Korea's president, has made it very, very clear that the situation with North Korea right now is very grave, it is very critical, it is very combustible, so we have to tread carefully. At the same time, she is also trying to tone down her words and her rhetoric because it's further escalating this vicious cycle. She also does not want to create a public frenzy. So people have been listening to the news and they've been seeing that we have been putting out a lineup that's focused heavily on North Korea, and clearly showing that it's a serious situation. Yet, however, South Koreans have been hearing this kind of news for years now, actually decades, so they are quite numb to what is going on.

Werman: June, can you give me an example of maybe something that you wanted to report and you had your kind of guidance from the South Korean government as to how to kind of cast the story? Have they actually asked you to tone down your coverage in any way?

Chang: Well, okay, there are some words for example that we will try not to use, or when we're doing the.

Werman: Like what?

Chang: For example, the North Korean news is ramping up its rhetoric to make it sound like a war will break out. So we, on the other hand, have to tone it down so that people don't get nervous. Even though there might be a low risk of all-out war, there is a risk that North Korea will be having some sort of provocation soon, especially in light of the April 15th birthday of Kim Il-Sung, who is the founding father of North Korea. So usually around that time they want to do something to celebrate and when they mean celebrate, they mean some kind of show of power. So with this celebration, there's a lot of misunderstandings that can take place. If there's a wrong move made, a provocation could escalate into a bigger war.

Werman: Do you think the North Korean government is sophisticated when it comes to using and manipulating the international media?

Chang: I think they are quite calculating as to what they're doing. I think that the international community has to realize, I've been hearing from a lot of tweets, a lot of SMS messages on Facebook and whatnot, a lot of people are saying, oh, the North Koreans don't know what they're doing. Actually they are quite capable of using technology. So we're seeing that now the North is really trying to use the media as a tool for themselves.

Werman: June Chang, news anchor at KBS World, one of the biggest broadcasters in South Korea. Thanks for taking time to talk to us.

Chang: Thank you very much.