In Democracies And Dictatorships, The Media Blame Game Is Alive And Well

It's more than just an easy target...

The less men think, the more they talk ( Montesquieu)
The less men think, the more they talk ( Montesquieu)
Assad,Erdogan(Screen-shots) Mubarak ( World Economic Forum) Romney (Gage Skidmore)
Francesca Paci


Who is really behind the scenes in Taksim Square? Ignoring the discontent emanating from the population, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan points the finger squarely at the TV cameras of the BBC and CNN. In doing so, he is copying tactics used by dictators in difficulty all over the world.

On March 30, 2011, long before the Syrian revolt turned into civil war, President Bashar al-Assad appeared on state television blaming the riots on the work of “foreign conspirators” and the lies of the “satellite broadcasters.” Two years and 95,000 deaths later, his supporters in the Alawite enclave of Tartus continue to use the Internet to spread the notion that the “international media” has legitimized the rebels’ cause.

Damascus’s claims parallel those of now deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, both so unaccustomed to the mere concept of opposition that they pinned the blame for the – in their eyes otherwise inexplicable – revolts on the media. “The press and TV are destroying the country,” raged Mubarak on February 10, 2011 while his henchmen hunted down foreign reporters.

Irony in Internet age

Now Mubarak’s long-term nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood is mimicking its authoritarian predecessor to such an extent that six months ago in Washington, President Mohammed Morsi stated that the protests against the new constitution were due to “evil propaganda” being spread by the U.S. media.

This appears to be an inevitable reflex of struggling dictators. When people took the streets after the controversial results of the 2009 Iranian elections were released, Teheran and the state media laid the blame firmly at the door of the international media. “When announcing the results of the vote, which didn’t favor their candidate, some international media – like BBC Persia, al-Arabiya, Fox and CNN – created the social and political divisions which led to the conflict”.

Hugo Chavez used to tell the same story, which has now been taken up by the Venezuelan Minister of Commerce Alejandro Fleming who claims international media outlets are “installing fear in consumers” to turn them against the government.

Authoritarian regimes take particular issue with the international press, which they believe to be less easily influenced. Just a few months ago, Chinese state TV channel CCTV broadcasted the “confession” of a Tibetan rebel who revealed that it was Voice of America that convinced him to set fire to himself “to become a hero.” In 2011, the spokesperson for Foreign Minister Jiang Yu used the same arguments to explain away the sit-in by human rights activists in the Beijing shopping street Wangfujing.

In short, Erdogan’s response is nothing new. Even in the democratic world political leaders blow hot and cold with the press. Obama’s former contender, Mitt Romney, like Sarah Palin before him, clashed with reporters after having his gaffes regularly highlighted. Unlike their colleagues working under dictatorships, American reporters continued to cover his blunders without thinking twice. It is, perhaps, ironic that while new technology often seems to be sending traditional media outlets into crisis mode, dictatorships continue to see them as the source of all their woes.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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