Occupy Central

Don’t be demoralised by Occupy failure – change gonna come, acclaimed Korean news anchor tells Hong Kong

Sohn Suk-hee, whose investigative reporting led to the impeachment and prosecution of former president Park Geun-hye, urges democracy activists to persevere

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 10:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 10:33am

Hongkongers should not be demoralised by the failure of the 2014 “umbrella movement” but continue to fight for democracy, according to one of South Korea’s most acclaimed news anchors whose investigative reporting led to the downfall of the country’s former president Park Geun-hye.

Sohn Suk-hee, visiting the city to deliver a speech for the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 50th anniversary, said on Friday that news media should always stand with civilians on the front line against state suppression.

“Changes among South Korean citizens in the aftermath of Park’s scandal are similar to what happened among Hongkongers in the umbrella movement – people began to understand that the real meaning of democracy lies in solving problems in our society together,” Sohn said.

His reporting team scooped a cronyism scandal that led to the impeachment and prosecution of Park last year on charges of abuse of power, bribery, coercion and leaking government secrets.

“We are lucky to have achieved some changes ... in South Korea. It seems that Hong Kong hasn’t harvested any special fruit, but remember, all of this is a process,” he said.

The umbrella movement, also known as the Occupy movement, was a large-scale civil disobedience campaign that began in Hong Kong in September 2014. Large numbers of protesters blocked roads and paralysed the city’s financial district as they called for universal suffrage. The movement lasted 79 days but ended without progress on electoral reform.

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Sohn, 61, has spent 34 years in television news since joining the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation in 1984, and has been the news department chief of cable network JTBC since 2013.

Known as one of the most influential figures in South Korea for his investigative reporting, Sohn and his team spent half a year exposing the network of corruption behind the MV Sewol ferry disaster, in which 295 people – mostly students – drowned in April 2014.

In October 2016, Sohn’s team found a personal tablet left in an office by Choi Soon-sil, a confidante of former leader Park. Hundreds of documents on the tablet exposed how Choi had colluded with Park to take tens of millions of dollars from South Korea’s largest companies in bribes and through extortion.

Choi was sentenced to 20 years in prison and slapped with a US$17 million fine in February. Park was impeached and removed from office last March, before being sentenced to 24 years in jail and a US$17 million fine in April.

“Fair reporting” should not be taken for granted, Sohn said.

In the 1980s he took part in reporters’ strikes aimed at securing independent and unrestricted news coverage in South Korea.

“We staged strikes so many times. In many cases, we failed, especially during the 1990s. We were down, we felt tired and frustrated, just as Hongkongers may be feeling after the 2014 movement,” Sohn said.

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“The city may feel fatigued and powerless. But people’s ideas and the social atmosphere cannot be buried underground. They will keep on accumulating.

“People’s anger and hope will definitely explode when the accumulation reaches a certain level. The more the Chinese government suppresses it, the larger the explosion will be. The only way to avoid that explosion is to remove the suppression.

“We must believe in Hong Kong people.”

Sohn called on news workers in the city to “uphold the most basic principles of journalism” and assist the public in coming up with solutions to social problems.

“When the government tries to control and manipulate public opinion, which leads to tension between the public and the state, the media should stand with the civilians instead of the government, and stand at the forefront,” Sohn said.