One of the advantages of working with a big international news network is that colleagues in other countries can alert you to stories in your own country that, for whatever reason, aren’t featuring in the domestic media.
For a week, newspapers in South Korea have been dominated by stories of “racist” attacks on their nationals in Australia. There have been six assaults in three months. But in Australia, you’d have no idea they were happening: the stories simply do not feature in the mainstream media.
Once my colleague in Seoul alerted me, it didn’t take much digging to find out more, and be invited along to film Korean community leaders in Sydney holding “crisis talks” to decide what to do.
That is to say, what to do about the Korean media coverage, not the attacks themselves.
Because Korean-Australians think the Korean media is making a mountain of a mole-hill: adding a racial element to what are mostly random acts of violence. They want to get an alternative message out: that, despicable though the isolated attacks have been, they’re mostly random not racial.
That Australia is safe for Koreans.
It matters because the livelihoods of many Korean-Australians are reliant on Koreans visiting Australia. Korea is Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner. Tens of thousands of Korean students study in Australia. If their parents think the country is dangerous, those students may stop coming. And that would hit the Korean-Australian community hardest of all.
The editor of a newspaper for Koreans in Australian that I interviewed was despairing of fellow news editors back “home”:
“Why can’t they improve their maturity when it comes to Australia?” he lamented. “The coverage is at ‘kindergarten level’: Sensationalism, or kangaroos! That’s all. It’s so immature.”
He blamed one correspondent from a Korean news agency for spreading largely false rumours.
Of course, racism in attacks is often hard to prove one way or another. At least two of the victims of the recent attacks do think the way they looked contributed to the fact they were attacked. And Korean-Australians with businesses bringing Koreans to Australia would want to paint a rosy picture.
But two racist attacks over three months is hardly a pattern: certainly not one – yet – that should cause the diplomatic spat the Korean media suggests is coming.