NBC apologises to Koreans after correspondent’s comment on Japanese ‘example’ at PyeongChang

The NBC Sports logo. The US broadcaster has apologised over a commentators remarks cause offence during coverage of the PyeongChang Games.
The NBC Sports logo. The US broadcaster has apologised after a commentator's remarks caused offence during coverage of the PyeongChang Games.

by Claire Lee

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - US broadcaster NBC has apologised for a controversial comment made on Korea-Japan relations during Friday’s opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Games, after receiving numerous complaints and angry posts online.

NBC’s Asian correspondent, Joshua Cooper Ramo, said “every Korean” thinks Japan has been a very “important” example to South Korea’s own achievements.

Many South Koreans, as well as Korean-Americans, found the comment insensitive to the nation’s own history, including Japan’s colonial rule from 1910-1945. The remark sparked a storm of complaints from Koreans on social media.

“Hey NBC, you forgot the Olympics were in Korea?” wrote a South Korean Twitter user. “Joshua Cooper Ramo should not speak for Koreans and obviously doesn’t know any Koreans either. Nobody will tell you we are thankful for Japan occupation and they are not an example.”

Some questioned whether Ramo has been following the news leading up to the current Olympics, as some of the disputes between South Korea and Japan erupted even during the preparation phase of the games.

A host of thorny issues complicate the bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan, including issues surrounding the “comfort women,” or Korean women used as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II.

The original version of Korea’s unified flag, under which North and South Korean players marched under at the opening ceremony, initially included a group of small Korean islets in the East Sea, known as Dokdo in Korean, over which Japan also claims sovereignty.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry eventually decided to remove the disputed islets from the flag, after the Japanese government strongly protested, calling the original flag “extremely regrettable” and “unacceptable.”

“Hard to think of a worse thing to say to Koreans in this political environment,” wrote Anna Fifield, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post, on Ramo’s comments during the opening ceremony.

“How can someone be an ‘Asian correspondent’ and be so clueless?” wrote a blogger based in South Korea.

Following the backlash, NBC released the following statement on Saturday:

“During our coverage of the Parade of Nations on Friday we said it was notable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the trip to Korea for the Olympics, ‘representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.’ We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologize.”

In spite of NBC’s public apology that was broadcast live, many in South Korea and abroad said the apology was not enough, and Ramo should issue his own apology.

“NBC, ‘sorry that you felt offended’ isn’t an apology and for Joshua Cooper Ramo, he might as well say German Nazi occupancy during World War II in Europe has been so important to those European countries’ own transformations,” said a Twitter user.

An online petition was set up asking the International Olympic Committee to “take a step” against NBC so that Ramo “can truly apologize” and “stop commenting.”

“If the IOC does not act on this issue, we will consider that the IOC agrees on NBC‘s stance,” the organisers of the petition wrote in a public statement.

Some 1,128 people had signed the petition as of Sunday afternoon.