Actually, It’s Actually about Ethics in Journalism: Recent Korean Dramas About Journalism

by Raizel Liebler

If you want to take a break from North American real and fictional scandals about ethics in journalism, I invite you to watch two recent Korean shows that consider what it means to be a reporter. However, if you are looking for gritty realism, keep walking – both shows take steps away from the directly hard hitting elements of English-language dramas.

Pinocchio (2014-15) and Healer (2014-15) are based around young gutsy reporters trying to make a difference in the cutthroat world of journalism. As with almost all non-comedic Korean drama, there are also secret identities/birth secrets, murder, and conspiracies. And multiple time frames. Both shows also have specific elements that demonstrate that this world is different from ours – but only slightly – Pinocchio has the conceit that some people, including the heroine, have a disorder that prevents them from lying without a tell – and Healer has a hero who has Batman-like abilities, but without a batsuit (or superpowers) to help him along.

While both shows have plenty of romantic angst (including some truly bizarre love triangles – including uncles that aren’t!), at the heart of both shows are ethical dilemmas in journalism. Healer’s main journalistic dilemma is not about what happens in the newsroom, but about when a journalist has an obligation to follow a story and report it wherever it leads. Even if it leads back to family – and will hurt innocent people. Unlike Pinocchio where having characters as journalists is essential to the plot – and would not work with any other careers, the journalists here could be, for example, prosecutors as in the similarly plotted show Pride and Prejudice (2014).

Pinocchio’s ethical dilemmas are more multilayered, partially because so much of this show is set in two competing newsrooms. The ethical issues addressed concern not only individual responsibility, but the responsibility of journalism as a whole. The plot of the show is set in motion by the rampant speculation (and depending on one’s viewpoint,pinocchio the outright lies) of one of the journalists regarding the culpability for a crime – in what would be considered a tabloid way. Years later, this speculation is used for a job interview for a group applying for a starter journalism job. The entire interview sequence could be used in a journalism or law class about ethical, legal, and moral responsibilities of journalists. And what not to say during a job interview!

Much of the show is based around two teams of newbie journalists working their hardest to get to the heart of the story – and whether their seniors stop or support their efforts to be true journalists. Is it relevant to a news story that a police officer accused of responsibility for a factory fire recently lost a suspect after arrest? Pinocchio discusses this issue and so many other ethical journalism disputes.

Do most viewers pay attention to these concerns about journalism while watching these shows? Likely not, but the quest for the most squee worthy kiss should not stop those looking for drama in their romance to consider watching these very entertaining shows.

Want to know more? Read episode summaries at Dramabeans. For Healer. And Pinocchio.

Want to watch these shows? Dramafever and Viki are great legally licensed options with subtitles in English.

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