Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling does it again. A month ago, there was a drug bust in South Korea in which some native speaking English instructors were involved. Predictably, this bust was used to paint all native speaking English instructors as drug smuggling fiends intent on corrupting Korean youth and thus calls were made for tougher regulations on those instructors.
But Matt breaks it down.
First, the content of the bust. Matt went through multiple articles on this and found that the majority of the people in the bust, by far, were Koreans–not foreign English teachers. One was an underground hip hop singer. Many of the others were “office workers.” A little more digging found that this was likely a media cover up. These “office workers” were the children of prominent leaders in Korean society. But that doesn’t fit in with the foreign-English-teachers-as-drug-addicts meme. So the headlines, news stories and subsequent editorials stuck with their old whipping horse–foreign English teachers are dangerous drug fiends out to poison Korean society. Let’s panic and pass even more restrictions.
But Matt breaks it down again.
Through more digging, Matt found that the Americans and Canadians in the bust were of Korean ethnicity.
Why does that matter?
Korea has a visa type set aside for this category, the F-4 visa. Koreans from certain countries with Korean blood can get these visas and basically have all the economic freedoms Korean citizens have. In other words, they can have any job they want without having to get another visa for said job. The most popular choice is teaching English.
The other English teachers in public schools and private cram schools (hagwons) come in on a very restrictive E-2 visa. To get an E-2 visa, one has to exhaustively prove that she has graduated from a four-year university, has to provide a thorough criminal background check from a national agency (like the FBI) and must go through a string of tests for drugs and sexually transmitted diseases. Once this visa is acquired, the teacher’s owner owns the visa. That sentence may come out awkwardly, but that’s basically how it is. The owner of the business owns the visa and basically owns the teacher. The teacher cannot change jobs easily if it’s an abusive owner and usually has to wait until the one-year period runs out on the visa.
Contrast that with the Korean blood F-4. There are new laws requiring hagwon owners to verify university degrees for all teachers, but that’s about it. F-4 visa holders do not have to go through drug testing.
The crime here, as Matt suggests, is that many of these busts on foreign English teachers, if not the majority, involve people who aren’t on E-2 visas, yet it’s the E-2 visas holders that are made the societal scapegoats. The Yonhap editorial I mentioned in the title, which was published within mere hours of the drug bust story, was titled, “It’s regretful that English education is entrusted to marijuana smoking native speakers.”
It did not say, “Some marijuana smoking native speakers.”
Without that crucial modifier, the headline implied that most native speaking English teachers are pot smokers. In short, the headline alone libeled an entire demographic in Korea, despite the statistics, as Matt found, showed that less than 0.2% fit that category. Keep in mind that Yonhap is the South Korean version of the Associated Press and has a level of respect internationally.
In South Korea, libel is a criminal offense. One of the reasons it’s difficult on this site to publish original citizen articles is because of this law. It’s even libelous if it’s true. And in this case it’s definitely not.
In the eyes of the Korean public, F-4 visa holders aren’t true foreigners. They’re in a gray area. When Korean-blooded foreigners do well, the media treats them as if they’re Koreans. When they do badly, like get busted for drugs, they’re foreigners. There is a deep, likely subconscious but obvious, racial bias in Korean media. This drug bust is but one of many examples. Most of the people busted were Koreans. Most all of them were ethnically Korean. But the media did not want to embarrass the children of the rich and didn’t want to acknowledge that its rules for teachers are based on race. So it turned the bust into a convenient way to repeat the centuries-old mantra–foreigners evil.