Late last month, nearly 70 journalists from 50 countries gathered to participate in World Journalists Conference (WJC) 2019, held in Seoul, South Korea, to discuss the reunification of the two Koreas and the role of journalists in ensuring peace.
Organized by the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK), which celebrated its 55th anniversary this year, this was the seventh consecutive World Journalists Conference and was held at the Korea Press Center. Representatives from countries such as Indonesia, China, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Germany, Australia, and Kenya participated and spoke at length not only about how to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula but also the state of journalism in their respective countries.
The first day of the conference, on March 25, began with a welcome address by the JAK president Mr. Jung Kyu Sung and a special session by Lee Taeho, the second vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea.
Two sessions were conducted. Moderated by Min-Kyu Lee, the first one included Zhu Xiaoqian (Deputy executive director, News Center of SMG, China), Teresa Pfuetzner (Reporter, Die Welt, Germany), Teguh Santosa (member of Ethical Council, Indonesian Journalists Association) and Janet Marie Tarquinio (President, National Society of Professional Journalists, USA) as they gave their views on role of journalists in peace-making in Korea.
Santosa, who shared he has made several trips to North Korea himself, highlighted one of the important points in the conference saying the leaders of the two countries have agreed in the past that reunification will be the result of conversation among Koreans without the interference of third parties. “As far as I am concerned, the peace process between the two Koreas has often been disturbed by the third parties. Their concern is that there will a political change in the region that could harm their geostrategic and economic position,” he said, adding that despite the absence of a written agreement in the second meeting between Kim Jong Un and the US President Donald Trump, he is patient and optimistic about the situation.
A completely differing idea was put forth by Pfuetzner who insisted to keep activism and journalism separate. “The title of this conference is ‘The role of journalists in ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula’. But I personally think that this is kind of misleading,” she said. “Neither it lies in the power of journalists to ensure peace nor is it our 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 report what is happening.”
She emphasized that the way we report news can make a difference and that journalists should not play into the game of politicians and stop giving attention to the one shouting the loudest. “Deliberate provocations are being used to as a tool to get the media’s attention, and therefore the attention of the public.”
Tarquinio maintained a neutral stance and focused more on how a free press can be essential for the peace process. She said the US was proud to call South Korea an ally and pointed out how one of the ‘Asian Tigers’ leaped 20 places in the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
According to the American journalist, after all the “five-act drama” the close observers of the events happening in the Korean peninsula have witnessed since last year, it is necessary for the press to be free from influences and report as it is.
“It is especially important that a free press functioning in an open society behaves responsibly by focusing on the legitimate security concerns of each side; but it should not omit to report on troubling developments,” she remarked, giving an example of how The Washington Post published an account of the disappointment felt by many South Koreans after the two-day Hanoi Summit between Kim and Trump was cut short after no agreement was reached. “Journalists must report what is done, what is said, and whenever possible, what is unsaid.”
She ended by saying, “The greatest contribution that we, as journalists, can make to peace on the Korean peninsula is to report back honestly and fully what we see here.”