A new Korean BBC world service? Interview with BBC for Korea

Founded in 1922 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the UK’s public service broadcasting association who main goal is to provide impartial public service broadcasting to the UK. For this and various other reasons it is held with high acclaim and seen as being one of the most trustworthy broadcasting services worldwide. The BBC World Service was starting in 1932 and currently reaches 188 million people a week worldwide, operating in 28 languages. In accordance to the BBC’s public purposes it aims to promote education and learning, stimulate creativity and cultural excellence.

An initial debate on the possible launch of the Korean language service was held on Wednesday the 23rd of January in the House of Lords, with the director Horrocks and relevant politicians expressing optimism and strong support towards the idea.  This lead to the creation of a BBC for Korea Facebook page (and campaign) in February 2013, so far has gaining the support of nearly 900 people who back the launch of a Korean BBC World Service.

We were fortunate enough to be able to meet one of the people behind the campaign and ask some important questions to find out more behind the purpose of the campaign and their plans for the future.

Why do you think that Korean speakers need a BBC service specifically when there are already so many news outlets broadcasting in Korean?

We have discovered through our campaign how much support there is among South Koreans for a different kind of media outlet. Though many media operators exist in Korea, there is a perception that they endorse, rather than analyse; views that already conform to the ideological orientations of their bases. The BBC will stand apart as an independent source of news and cultural contents. It also has no existing ties to Korean institutions, a plus for an entity seeking to take a neutral stance. In addition, we cannot discount the fact that no Korean media outlet serves the population in the two Koreas simultaneously, and the BBC has the resources and opportunity to reach the whole of the Korean peninsula.

The BBC World Service is recognized for channelling new and important information to people across the world. We believe that a Korean language broadcast of the BBC can have a profound impact on the media landscape in South Korea as well as the political situation on the Korean peninsula as a whole.

A lot of discussion has centred on the fact that BBC provides unbiased reporting, do you think the BBC could provide better news service than any of those already available in South Korea?

Consider the fact that Voice of America and Radio Free Asia broadcast in Korean, but that their influence is limited by the explicit connection between them and the U.S government, as well as by the infrastructural capacities of the operations. The BBC, though funded by the British Government, has an excellent record as a reliable source of news. It has a wide network of journalists who report from all over the world and can thus provide a diverse range of information about matters of import. The media landscape in Korea is fiercely competitive, which means that serious and important news may get passed over for more attention-grabbing headlines. The BBC is known to favour topics of far-reaching political and social implication in lieu of merely sensational stories. One may say that the BBC has a distinct voice for which it is much respected.

There is lots of talk that a Korean language BBC service would help to create more unification between both Koreas. Why do you think this is the case?

Because BBC transmission would create a stream of information trusted by both North and South. The UK is not as much suspected by the North as being “imperialistic” as America and in fact the UK and North Korea enjoy a formal diplomatic relationship. We, as well as a number of law-makers believe that having a British channel will increase the general flow of information intersecting both Koreas.

Could this be a good opportunity to bring more freedom and information to the citizens of North Korea?

Yes the BBC plans to broadcast to both North and South Korea with the view of upholding values specified in the human rights charter in the UN.

Given that the BBC World service receives a lot of its funding from the licence fee and that there are ongoing budget cuts, why should the British government support this service? Would it bring any benefits to the UK?

We believe that the budget needed for the Korean-language broadcast would be around £1 million, but when there is such a strong case for the venture, we are optimistic that the figure will not be a significant obstacle to the implementation of the broadcast. There may also be a way to raise external funds for the project as long as the BBC’s editorial control is not undermined by financial connections to sources outside the British government. Having the BBC maintain a strong presence on the Korean peninsula would strengthen Britain’s national image in East Asia. The BBC has become so synonymous with excellence and integrity over the years; one can scarcely imagine another entity better suited to represent Britain before the Korean public. We are also convinced that there are a growing number of British citizens who would like to know more about Korea, and that BBC Korea may help to supply information about Korean society and culture to the BBC World Service as a whole, and to all of Britain as well.

You have received a lot of support from many influential figures including many academics, journalists and politicians including member of the House of Lords, Lord Alton. What are your plans for taking your campaign forward in the future?

To make BBC Korea a reality, we must attract support from both Britain and South Korea. While it has been gratifying to receive the support of many prominent figures in both countries, we have chosen Facebook as the base for our campaign in order to reach out to the larger public, who, of course, are the intended listeners of the Korean-language broadcast. We are particularly looking to reach a young demographic as we move forward.
They are the people who will really give this cause the boost it needs to attract attention from the media and the wider world. Young people in Korea have been very welcoming to us because they would like to see a change in the way the media in Korea report news. We plan to make a case to foreigners who are interested in Korean society and culture that BBC Korea will bring Korea that much closer to the world. Of course, it would be a great way to study Korean if they could listen to BBC Korea. (Laugh)


Thank you to BBC for Korea for taking the time to do an interview with us and answer our questions. If you wish to learn more about the campaign, you can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

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Co-founder and Editor at Beyond Hallyu
Lover of Korean hip-hop and indie music...and Unicorns.