From Mohd Nasir Yusoff
SEOUL, April 16 (Bernama) – There was something telling in the tranquillity at the Jingwansa Temple amid the smooth-blowing end-winter breeze at four degrees Celsius that afternoon, as if there was a whisper unheard but deeply felt that peace and reunification are the main and the utmost aspiration of every South Korean.
Many among the country’s 51.3 million population, when approached, gave a big “Yes” when asked about the possible reconciliation with the North and welcomed all efforts underway taken by both the governments towards better understanding and eventual reunification, noting the recent episodes of heart-warming gestures by the leaders of the two countries.
“It may not be easy and smooth due to many factors but that shouldn’t stop the efforts and goodwill shown by both President Moon Jae-in and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un,” said one foreign journalist who, together with some 70 others from around world, spent a week in South Korea recently.
They were guests of the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK) which hosted the World Journalists Conference 2019 here beginning March 24, followed by a whirlwind tour of several metropolitans and provinces around the country.
The conference, carrying the theme ‘The Role of Journalists in Ensuring Peace in the Korean Peninsula’, was interesting enough to capture the imagination of the participants, especially the senior and seasoned journalists, some of whom hailed from countries not unfamiliar with war.
Throughout the bus journey to various destinations, many kept discussing what role they could play to contribute to the aspiration of a reunited Korea, which has been divided for more than seven decades. The separating demilitarised zone (DMZ) is only about 250-km long and 4-km wide but the pain it caused was torture to thousands of families separated from their beloved members on both sides of the border.
Indonesian journalist Teguh Santosa said the world has seen recently North Korea entering the arena of civilised talk. Kim Jong-un has met twice with US President Donald Trump. The first meeting was in Singapore last year, and the second in Vietnam late February this year.
And, it was an unforgettable moment for the Koreans and also world citizens who witnessed on TV Presidents Moon and Kim shake hands and walk hand-in-hand into each other’s sovereign land at the demarcation line.
“May that historic moment of April 27, 2018, at the DMZ in Panmunjom lead the way to one reunited Korea,” said Habib Toumi, a journalist from Bahrain. He said it gave hope, not only meaningful to the Koreans but also to the world, which has been really scared and worried over the nuclear missile testing by the North several months earlier.
On what journalists could do towards that end, Teguh, who also lectures on East Asia relations and is a referral point for many in Indonesia on North Korea, in his paper presented earlier said reporters must avoid the combative perspective.
“Many among us see a ‘conflict situation’ from a combative perspective as if all conflicts must end with dramatic clashes. Understand the overall dynamics and report a complete picture, find a more positive and constructive perspective,” he said.
Zhu Xiaoqian, a winner of several press awards, said in her presentation that the achievement of peace on the peninsula will not happen instantly, and quoted an adage which says that three feet of snow is not the result of a single cold day. She said it requires all parties to continue to demonstrate sincerity and goodwill, resolve confrontations and foster trust.
The deputy executive director of the News Centre of the Shanghai Media Group said that first of all the media must serve as the disseminator of the concept of peace, guiding the public to profoundly understand the dangers of war and, therefore, opposing war and cherishing peace.
Secondly, she said, the media should uphold the spirit of professionalism, uncover the truth and help the public to understand the outside world objectively, truthfully, comprehensively and accurately.
“Thirdly, the mainstream media must adapt to the new media environment in order to become the source of public access to accurate information to enhance and maintain social credibility”.
However, Teresa Pfuetzner, a reporter of Die Welt, Germany, thought the conference theme was kind of misleading as it is neither in the power of journalists to ensure peace nor is it their task.
“Although we all hope for peace, journalism and activism cannot and shall not be mixed – even if it is for such a noble goal. All we can do is to report what is happening,” she cautioned in her paper presentation.
She added that “But in such a vulnerable context, the way how we report things can make a difference.”
She said what the people of Germany can share with the people of the two Koreas is the experience of families and friends and a whole nation being separated by political decisions. For decades.
She said that 30 years after the Berlin Wall was torn down, the process of the reunification in Germany was still not finished. Many people in Germany still speak and think of “those from the west” and “those from the east”. There are certain stereotypes, which remained.
Should there be peace on the Korean Peninsula one day, in whatever form, reconciliation will require a lot of effort, strength and goodwill from the people – and most of all mutual understanding, she said.
“The latter could be promoted by empathic reporting, beyond stereotypes and populism. Something, which we all could hopefully contribute,” she said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia, as a close regional neighbour of South Korea, has always supported the peace process and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Peace in the peninsula would contribute much to a peaceful region.
The Malaysian media has always reported positive developments towards peace in the Korean peninsula, sharing its aspiration to see an improved relationship in the peninsula, the world’s only remaining divided land of Korea.
Towards the end of the conference, many among the journalists agreed that JAK’s effort aimed at promoting world peace and contributing to the advancement of media through WJC has achieved great success, especially in telling South Korea’s story, its sincerity and aspiration for lasting peace.
“Certainly it’s a huge success. We witnessed ourselves the widespread development taking place all over the nation, the new metropolitans, the many technology advancements and research centres.
“Only a country with great hope and believe in itself will go to this extent to prepare itself for eventual lasting peace,” concluded this journalist from Malaysia, Mohamad Nasir Yusoff.
JAK, with more than 10,000 journalists from 187 media companies as members, according to its President Jung Kyu Sung, shares one thing common with the world press - the devotion to reporting the truth with a cool head and a passionate heart and committed to freedom and peace.
And, in supporting JAK’s effort in hosting the world press, Incheon Mayor Park Nam-choon said, “I would like you to know that you, the journalists, can have a great impact at this critical juncture of our history, exerting stronger and better influence than anyone else.”
In silence, except for the rustle of fallen leaves, the cold end-winter breeze at the centuries-old Jingwansa Temple, west of Seoul, seemed to be endlessly whispering the word ‘peace’ into the hearts of the journalists.