ON APRIL 16th, the Sewol ferry sank with so many precious lives who had so many more years ahead of them than behind them. The rescue and recovery operations have been ongoing ever since, with the latest developments reported on the internet minute-by-minute. Throughout the day, media commentators came up with their own guesses as to whom should be held accountable for the lives of the innocent young victims. Everyone has been caught up in this sad event for quite some time.
But, there’s something more we should consider. For about a month or two after the Sewol tragedy, it seemed as if only news items relevant to the Sewol incident were given priority on news broadcasts. From the morning until night, what filled the pages of newspapers were the issues of the Sewol tragedy. Of course, it is perfectly understandable, since the Sewol disaster immediately became the primary concern for most Koreans. The public eagerly wanted to know the truth behind the tragedy and, keep getting posts with any kind of update.
However, there is another duty of the media just as important as providing the information that the public wants – the duty of an agenda setter. Although we often recognize the media as a reflection of change in society, the relationship can also be reversed at the same time. Depending on the media’s decision on what to cover and what to hold back from covering, the public will either show interest and actively respond to particular news items or instead stay silent. In other words, the media frame the social issues, thereby inducing – or, change in society. The issues neglected by the media are basically forgotten by the citizens, and such neglect can be dangerous for it might result in grave mistake without the public even noticing.
In the case of the Sewol tragedy and its aftermath, there were many other ongoing events that definitely needed public attention. One congressman brought up an issue of increasing the expense paid by Korea to cover the presence of US armed forces stationed in South Korea. Other major issues such as raising railroad fares, selling the Su-seo-bal KTX, and an unsuccessful political resolution in the National Assembly that would have banned violence in the parliamentary chamber also came on the table. Normally, these issues would have generated much controversy and the public debate, but this time, most citizens did not even know that such issues were under discussion at all.
Certainly the news media hold many duties and responsibilities. Accurately reporting the events of greatest public interest, at any given moment, is one of the basic duties. However, the media should also live up to the obligation to lead civil society to the right decisions and function as an effective monitor for the public. As such, the media should not only focus on the “hot” issue but also give space in news coverage to other diverse and important issues, as well. Only a comprehensive and well-rounded emphasis on many different issues can bring our society into the right kind of balance.