South Koreans have often alleged media cover-ups. But many, watching coverage of last week’s deadly shopping mall collapse, thought TV and newspapers showed too much this time.
Reporters crowded narrow tunnels dug to pull out survivors, impeding rescue work. Photographers ignored appeals not to use camera flashes and floodlights to protect the eyes of survivors who had spent up to two days in total darkness.
On the first night, reporters for one network rummaged through purses and wallets found in the rubble and read the names of several victims from credit cards.
The angriest complaints followed the death of a 21-year-old salesclerk Sunday, two hours after she became the last person pulled out alive.
A TV crew tried to interview the semiconscious woman while she was being carried out of the wreckage. One network repeatedly showed footage of her transfer from an ambulance to a hospital gurney.
“When this incident settles down, the media need to seriously reconsider” the way they cover disasters, Lee Hyun-rak, editor of the newspaper Dong-A, told Media Today, a weekly industry watchdog published by the Korean Federation of Press Unions.
At least 128 people were killed when the glitzy Sampoong Department Store collapsed on more than 1,000 people last Thursday. More than 300 were still missing six days later.
Relentless coverage of the rescue efforts was in sharp contrast to a similar disaster in a provincial city two months earlier.