Broadcasting from a studio above a punk club in Mullae, Seoul, Migrant World TV has been making media for a decade.
And more recently, this migrants’ TV station has also been offering training to foreign residents to help them make their own programs and take more control over programming.
Migrant World TV started out as Migrant Workers TV during a strike by migrant workers in Myeong-dong in 2005.
“At the time they realized that many mainstream media cannot show their voice, so they said, ‘We need our own media,’” said MWTV Co-representative Jung Hye-sil.
Since then, the focus of the nongovernmental organization, run by a steering committee of foreign residents and Koreans, has broadened. It now includes foreign spouses, refugees and other migrants, and its programs have also broadened from TV to film, radio and an online magazine.
The training program is supported by Maeul Media, a program in which each local district has its own amateur media outlets.
“We are not a gu (district), but we persuaded the Maeul Media support center that we are a community, a different community. We are not based on a district, we are based on people,” said Jung.
So far, the courses have focused on content creation and encouraging students to come up with ideas and carry them through. There has been some success and three current programs are presented by former students, including “Nepalese People in Korea,” which is produced by Dumbar Subba, who hosted the second season of another show, “Migrant World.”
Subba worked part-time as a journalist in Nepal before coming to Korea. He started out with the intention of giving a direct voice to migrants about the difficulties and unfairness they face.
“There are some (journalists) that want to truthfully talk about our problems, but there are some difficulties communicating our problems through someone else. Directly telling our stories can be more effective,” he said.
His first reports highlighted the problems facing migrant workers, including examples of workers without health insurance, particularly in agricultural sectors.
“Another problem is that employers will tell workers they will cover the cost of treatment only if they don’t register it as an industrial accident,” he said.
He said one reason he has such broad connections is that he works in a hospital and other Nepalese people in Korea often contact him when they need medical help. But he added that Facebook has made a huge difference in connecting the communities.
Having joined MWTV in 2008 focusing on news, he moved on to present “Migrant World” in Korean.
“There must be some people saying ‘Ah why doesn’t that guy let someone else have a go?’” he joked when asked if he would present another season.
But it is also in line with MWTV’s vision to have more migrant producers and editors.
Jung echoed the sentiment of another person at MWTV, saying that having migrants on TV did not go deep enough.
“But if they want to have subjectivity in media they must be producers and editors, and give the ideas and the stories. Then they will really have a voice,” she said. “In the mainstream media we can also show them, but that is not really their voice, that is Korean people’s voice.”
Her approach means the technical side of the shows can suffer a bit, and this can cause friction with Koreans who get involved. But Jung sees this as a form of prejudice to be avoided.
“Sometimes Korean people have more education than migrant people or more technical skills than migrant people so they have sometimes a sense of superiority,” she said.
“But migrant people also sometimes have some ideas, even if they have no degree, they can do this media as an activist. I know technically it is low quality, but we focus on their message.”
Jung said MWTV planned to have more technical education this year and she is more than open to the idea of them making shows for YouTube or other “one-person media” that are popular in Korea.
“If anybody has their program, they can be a star on other sites. It’s a very good situation for migrant people,” she said. “Because if anybody is interested in migrant issues, they will watch and sometimes they will support them.”
The organization would also like to involve people from Africa and the Middle East, including refugees.
“There are some people from Ethiopia and Sudan who were journalists in the past so I want to look for opportunities for them to still engage in their jobs in Korea,” said Ji Su-jeong, a producer at MWTV.
Jung added, “Refugees are a very small minority, so they have no voice. Journalists interview them and it’s finished, but they cannot send their own voice to Korean society.”
More recently Jung has looked toward broader solidarity, including towards sexual minorities and other groups, for which Christians have attacked her.
This was in part inspired by the British film “Pride,” released in Korea this year.
“I realized why (LGBT groups) come every year to our events ... I felt, why don‘t we do that?” she said. They always support us, so we need to support them, and work together for an anti-discrimination law.”
“I’m Christian, but I support them.”
The film depicts a gay and lesbian group who raised funds for striking Welsh miners in the 1980s.
And funding is a concern for MWTV. Jung said it had suffered as funding for nongovernmental organizations in general had been cut, so they are more reliant on donations -- a fund-raiser will be held at the station on June 10. A lot of her work now is writing funding applications for specific projects.
One such project is the MWTV Film Festival held each autumn, which marked its 10th anniversary last year.
“Many migrant groups remember this film festival,” said Jung. “I think it is a symbol of our organization, but our more important thing is our web magazine because it is journalism.”
The festival was also the forum for Subba to showcase his first film, about migrant women. But his priority seems to be more journalistic and he says there are still stories he wants to tell.
“This is still not a country that properly accepts migrants. I want to show migrants as neighbors and I want to try to uphold migrants’ human rights,” he said.
“A lot of Nepalese people (in Korea) are committing suicide, so I’d like to make a film about that, and also the number of people who are dying because of workplace pressure.”
By Paul Kerry (email@example.com