The final part of my look back over British newspaper coverage of the June Struggle. I think on balance I was more impressed with David Watts’ coverage in the Times than Jasper Becker’s in the Guardian. Watts managed to convey more of a keen sense of the action on the ground and his understanding of Korean society seems good too. I really wonder whether there would be coverage of this quality in the British papers if these events were happening now. Journalism has changed quite a lot in the last 20 years and in the UK international coverage seems to have been hollowed out in particular. I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but as far as I can see there has been nothing in either the Times or the Guardian to mark the anniversary. Which is somewhat surprising when you consider that back in 1987 the story was big enough for the papers to cover it almost every day and to devote a number of leaders to it.
Below are three articles from the last day of June 1987 - another excellent piece from David Watts, this time reporting from Kwangju; a leader from the Guardian; and finally an in-depth article from Jasper Becker on the ‘two Kims’.
Grassroots bitterness that choked Chun regime
From David Watts in Kwangju
The Times, June 30 1987, Tuesday
The rice fields around Kwangju have turned a rich green with the new crop and the stolid houses contribute to an air of well-being. But beneath the surface is an unrest felt as deeply as in the big cities of South Korea.
In no small measure it led to Sunday’s extraordinary statement from the South Korean Government that it had decided to cede to opposition demands for political change.
The Government decision springs from a complex of pressures.
Perhaps among the most important but less easily quantified elements were American pressure for change and the bad worldwide media image being built up which could easily have damaged the country’s chances of staging the Olympic Games.
The loss of the Olympics would have been such a blow to national pride, international prestige and the never-ending contest with North Korea, that it would have taken years to recover.
In the countryside the juxtaposition of apparent wealth and dissatisfaction confirms the notion that it takes more than an annual growth in gross national product - already in double figures - to satisfy a people so industrious and politically sophisticated that they have built their country into an economic power that threatens Japan in some sectors.
Kwangju has been a centre of opposition to the Government of President Chun Doo Hwan since some of his best troops gunned down hundreds of their fellow Koreans so that he and his fellow generals could stay in power.
That has never been forgotten, but in the countryside it was the day-to-day methods used to maintain the influence of the Democratic Justice Party that rankled.
The farmers of a small township about 40 miles into rice country warn that there must be nothing to identify them or the place as we talk over Ginseng Tea in a small tea shop.
Most farmers cannot subsist on their rice crop alone so they grow strawberries and corn for the big cities. For those with small plots, who make up about 50 per cent of the community, there are difficulties getting loans if they are not supporters of the Government. And that is important with many of the locals heavily in debt and struggling just to educate their children.
‘We see people from the ruling party living better than others so we want a change .. If you have a relative working with the Government and you support the opposition he’ll get a visit from an official warning him that he’ll lose his job if you don’t stop supporting them. ‘
Support for student demonstrators has been strong and often the students help their farming families with money from part-time jobs. In recent times three students from the area have been arrested for anti-Government activities. A young girl who served a year in jail for anti-Government activities came out to find that she could get no work at all because her identity as a criminal had been circulated. She is now reduced to shuttling between friends in Seoul and Kwangju while the Government watches her for evidence of further malfeasance.