After finishing my volunteer shift at Pyeongchang during the Olympics, I rushed back to my hotel to watch a match I was extremely looking forward to: Korea vs. Japan in women’s curling. However, when I turned on the television, all channels were broadcasting speedskating, one of Korea’s favorite sport. No matter how many times I switched through the channels to check if at least one would start showing the curling match, I had to wait until after the 6th end had finished for them to start airing the game. Despite the lack of attention curling got from the media at the beginning of the Olympics, it is still nothing compared to how the Paralympics are being ignored right now.
Korean media is heavily focused on what is popular - or in other words, what is profitable. The same goes for the PyeongChang Paralympics. The Paralympics was a more recent event, yet there was very little media coverage. During the 10 days of the event, the major television networks of Korea each broadcasted less than 19 hours of the games. The recorded programs and highlights of matches were aired after midnight. Three to four games were broadcasted live. These numbers are almost embarrassing compared to the television networks in the other countries. According to an article from Kyunghyang Shinmun, Japan’s NHK set their airtime for 62 hours, the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 for 100 hours, and the United States’ NBC for 94 hours, all including interviews and subtitles or sign language for those with disabilities. It is ironic that out of these countries, Korea, despite being its host, had the lowest airtime on the Paralympics.
Though the Paralympic Games have a relatively short history, the world is increasingly showing interest to this international sports event as people are becoming more and more aware about the rights of those with disabilities. The perception of disabled people is also becoming more normalized. That is why the Paralympics are important - they play a significant role in eliminating existing stereotypes and changing societal perspectives towards people with disabilities. This cannot be attained, however, if there is not enough media coverage of the games, and Korean media is lacking that coverage significantly.
Television networks are companies too, so economically speaking, its rational to pursue what makes money. However, assuming that people are completely uninterested in the Paralympics is possibly another stereotype. During the London Olympics back in 2012, BBC planned to extend their airtime on the Paralympics after observing that many were, in fact, watching the games. Instead of waiting for content that would guarantee high view numbers, the media, especially public networks, could and should broadcast what might gain popularity, just as curling did in the Olympics. It’s time we do the same for the Paralympics, for both the recognition of the athletes and the people who want to watch and support them. Hopefully, the Korean media will recognize the important role they play in shaping public opinion and raising interest regarding marginalized groups.