Internet president out, newspaper president in?

20080207_newspaper_president

A recent article in JoongAng Ilbo contrasted the media preferences of the outgoing president Roh and the president-elect Lee. As we have heard many times during his term, Roh is one of the biggest beneficiaries of internet technology and a keen user of it himself. He is well-known for staying in touch with what’s going on in Korean cyberspace by interacting with Netizens – i.e. reading postings and often leaving comments of his own on bulletin boards. Email was also an irreducible channel of communication between him and his ministers. He is, after all, “the first president to understand HTML website coding.” On the other hand, Lee the president-elect is apparently more of a “newspaper mania”. The article says he reads 10 newspapers from cover to cover every morning.

What I find most interesting is readers’ reactions to this article. I came across the article through Cyworld news feed first. On Cyworld, there is a thumb-up/down facility to peer-evaluate all user comments made at the bottom of each article. The most thumbed-up comment to this article, or what Cyworlders call Beple (베플, from ‘BEst rePLy’), was:

20080207_newspaper_president_comment

Roughly translated into: “Ah… no wonder he [Lee] carries on being like that. He doesn’t read comments…”, implying his insistence on his policy proposals has resulted from his ignorance of what people actually think of them. There was then a debate further to this comment whether the comment box is a window to public opinion or a cathartic outlet for a bunch of losers. This is a constantly presented question in Korean politics, particularly for the last 5 years.

While I was writing my DEA dissertation on the impeachment/reinstatement of the Korean president that happened in 2004, I had to bang my head against the wall over this question. I still have no clear-cut answer to it, and I probably will never do. Reynié (“Le nombre dans la politique moderne”, Hermès, 1989) highlights the difference between ‘opinion publique‘ and ‘opinion publiée‘ in the context of opinion polls. The furthest I could go with his argument and apply it to the internet environment is that the real digital divide will then emerge between those who actually bother taking time out of their busy day to write/rewrite/overwrite on the Net and those who lurk, something I also wrote in an earlier post and presented to a seminar. Internet access will be eventually available to all, however long it takes and however different each society’s pace is in ensuring that; I believe that is the direction we are walking in. However, I also acknowledge that technological availability is one thing and whether you rely on it is another.

Back to the article, apart from the not-so-subtle tone in which it is written favouring the incoming one over the outgoing one, I think the article is right pointing that this is not a matter of personal preferences but will result in a shift in media policies. Better sit tight.

p.s. I probably shouldn’t say this but I mean it in the sweetest possible way: doesn’t Lee (left in the photo) resemble C. Montgomery Burns of Springfield?

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