South Korea’s first female news anchor speaks on why she mustn’t fail

South Korean first female news anchor Lee So-jeong has said she feels the pressure of being a trailblazer in a heavily male-dominated society.

Under gleamingly bright studio lights, Lee So-jeong reads straight from a teleprompter, rehearsing her lines ahead of the primetime newscast for South Korea’s national public broadcaster, KBS.

Five times a week, she is beamed into living rooms across the country leading its “News 9” bulletin, after she broke into a decades-old boys’ club in a society that is technologically and economically advanced, but still culturally male-dominated.

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South Korean television news broadcasts have long followed the same format: a serious-looking older male anchor announcing the day’s major developments, with a much younger female sidekick delivering lighter items later in the line-up.

Some of those women juniors went on to marry into the billionaire families who own South Korea’s chaebol conglomerates, rather than continue their careers.

The audience share for Lee’s programme — the most-watched news broadcast in the country — has risen from 9.6 to 11 percent since she started in November

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Lee’s appointment at state-funded KBS — the Korean Broadcasting System — upended that model. At 43, she even has a younger male sidekick of her own.

Female newsreaders used to be like “pretty flowers”, Lee told AFP. But she had greater ambitions, wanting to transform KBS’s conservative style and capture younger audiences turned off by broadcasts that tended to “rather lecture the viewers”.

The audience share for her programme — the most-watched news broadcast in the country — has risen from 9.6 to 11 percent since she started in November.

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But Lee feels the pressure of being a trailblazer, knowing however unfairly, she cannot afford a single mistake.

“If I fail in this, it could disgrace other women reporters as a whole,” she said. “I have to do well so that other female reporters could have more opportunities.

“That sense of responsibility and burden is greater than live-broadcasting primetime news.”


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