OhmyNews readies for National Assembly elections

OhmyNews readies for National Assembly elections.
I don’t think a day goes by in which I’m not bombarded by stories about the role of the Internet in our Presidential elections. Joe Trippi this. Joe Trippi that. The Web certainly has changed the way politics are being done here, but the real story is in South Korea, where a David and Goliath battle has been raging since before the surprise election of Roh Moo-hyun in the fall of 2002.

His election was due to the efforts of the “citizen’s reporter” online newspaper, OhmyNews, who took on the three traditional newspaper powers in the country. It produced raised eyebrows all across the global political landscape, because Roh’s election was from the ground up.

Fast forward to 2004. Roh has proven to have a few blindspots in his leadership abilities and has ruled a country deeply divided politically. He was impeached by his political foes on March 12, a month before the National Assembly elections on April 15th. It’s unlikely the impeachment will be upheld by the courts, but Roh’s ability to lead has been damaged. What’s happened since has been fascinating, because the public has viewed the impeachment as overhwelmingly negative. Consequently, look for a lot of that anger to be expressed during the legislative elections, as Roh’s Uri (Our Open Party) Party gains favor.

Meanwhile, OhmyNews is promising to have its citizen reporters throughout the country next month keeping track of things and feeding back information to OhmyNews servers via camera phones.

Contrary to popular belief here, the U.S. isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to technology applications. The cyber generation in South Korea is a culture unto itself, and it’s more than willing to use technology to sidestep entrenched, institutional life. Here’s a wonderful comparison between the cultures of Japan and Korea, as reported by OhmyNews’ Jean K. Min:

The World Cup 2002 Korea-Japan, the first World Cup ever co-hosted by two countries gave socio-cultural analysts in both countries an unusual opportunity to compare the behavior by peoples of the two historic rivals. Dr. Ha Yong Chul, a Korean sociologist at Seoul National University, watched the whole televised games and noted an interesting difference.

When Japanese national team scored a goal, the soccer stadium in Japan was instantly filled with thousands of flash lights bursting out of ubiquitous Nikons and Canons. Korean team equally electrified whole Korea as they beat European power houses game after game until they were finally qualified for the semi-final. Scenes in the Korean Soccer stadiums couldn’t be different more.

Whenever their beloved team scored a goal, unlike their Japanese counterparts, Koreans opened their shiny clam-shell phones and furiously hit keypads to share ultimate joy with their family and friends sending SMS or voice mails. Far more important to Korean cyber generation rather than simply recording the events as Japanese did, it seemed, was to share their bursting emotion with others and network with them.

This is a place that Joe Trippi would love to find himself — with a subculture energized for change and armed with SMS and camera phones. The South Korean National Assembly elections next month should be viewed seriously by those who believe the Internet can influence politics. I know I’ll be watching.

(full disclosure: I’ve been asked to publish my essays in the International version of OhmyNews)

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