• Interview
  • Interview with Lee Byung-jong, Professor at Sookmyung Women’s University Graduate School of International Service

Interview with Lee Byung-jong, Professor at Sookmyung Women’s University Graduate School of International Service

For this issue, the KF interviewed Lee Byung-jong, Sookmyung Women’s University Graduate School of International Service (GSIS) Professor, and heard about the latest trends and prospects in the field of public diplomacy via media.

You are the professor in charge of International PR and Public Diplomacy at GSIS. Please tell us about yourself and your field of expertise.

For 25 years I worked as the Seoul correspondent for such major foreign news organizations as Newsweek, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg. During my career, I naturally developed an interest in the image of Korea abroad, and studied the shaping of the national image through mass media. For the last seven years, my academic focus has been on how the government and corporations communicate with citizens of other nations.
  Sookmyung Women’s University launched Korea’s first course on International PR and Public Diplomacy with the aim of fostering global communications specialists. It offers many classes on the theories and practices of communication in multinational firms, public institutions, and embassies. Graduates usually find jobs in these establishments, leaning upon the knowledge they have acquired at our school.

How has the image of Korea changed in the eyes of the global media?

In the 1980s and 1990s when I was working as a foreign correspondent, depictions of Korea in the global media were quite stereotypical. The security situation and its economic growth were highlighted from a hard-power perspective, while its negative image was rather strong. In the 2000s, however, the creativity of Koreans, the diversity of Korean culture, and other soft-power elements of Korea were boosted, making Korea’s image more positive and diverse in different regions. For instance, Asian media pays greater attention to Korea’s soft power while their European counterparts still remain more committed to North Korea-related issues and economic development.

Do you have any memorable episodes involving foreigners’ views of Korea from your days as a foreign correspondent?

The 2002 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by Korea and Japan seems to have been instrumental in changing foreigners’ views of Korea, moving from a stereotyped and negative perception to something more diverse and positive. At that time a large number of foreign journalists were assigned to report on the event. As the games were coming to a close, Korea had grown on them due to its unexpected charm, and more than a few foreign reporters declared they felt lucky to have come to Korea.

Could you share some exemplary cases of public diplomacy that utilized mass media?

A good example would be what the United States did during the Cold War period in the 1960s and 1970s. The government-financed American radio broadcasts promoted the ideas of freedom and equality to the peoples of the Soviet Union and other countries in Eastern Europe. A longing for freedom spread among the young men and women in the region who tasted the dynamic and free spirit of America through radio, and such an atmosphere served as a catalyst for social change. It is widely believed that the US’s media diplomacy played a crucial role in ending the Cold War.
  A more recent example can be found with Singapore’s Channel News Asia. Since it was established in 1999 under the Singaporean government’s plan to launch an Asian version of the Cable News Network (CNN), it has emerged as an international media organization that represents Southeast Asia. Singapore is actively using the channel in publicizing its soft power and policies, thus enhancing its image on the global stage.

What do you think is needed to promote Korea’s public diplomacy via media?

For middle-power nations like Korea that have a limited standing in the international community, it is imperative that they let their stance be known through mass media, but the nation has yet to realize the importance of doing so.
  Now is the time to depart from the passive public diplomacy of making our voices heard through such existing major media organizations as the New York Times and CNN. We should actively pursue public diplomacy by bringing various Korean media into play. Twenty-first century public diplomacy is omnidirectional, presenting our position through videos and broadcasts, the Internet, social media services, and publications. It is also necessary to upgrade efficiency by implementing a system of directing the public diplomacy efforts that are individually carried out by varied institutions.

How do you suggest we promote citizens’ understanding of and participation in public diplomacy?

To encourage citizens’ participation, special emphasis should be placed on those foreigners living in Korea. Before putting any plans into practice, it is very important to expand educational programs that teach the significance and methodology of media diplomacy in a way that stimulates their interest and increases their knowledge about public diplomacy overall.

Written by Woo Ji-won