Obituary: Kim Sang-Man

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Kim Sang-Man, newspaper publisher: born 19 January 1910; Hon CBE 1974, Hon KBE 1981; died Seoul 26 January 1994.

KIM SANG-MAN was a great newspaperman and a dedicated defender of press freedom. For more than 45 years he was closely associated with Dong-A Ilbo, the most prestigious newspaper in South Korea, founded by his father, Kim Sung-Soo. He was Executive Director, President and Publisher, Chairman of the Board and, for the last 12 years, Honorary Chairman. In whatever position, he was the soul of the paper: he stood for freedom of expression in his country during years of military dictatorship.

It was during those troubled years in the Seventies and early Eighties that I met Kim Sang-Man and came to admire him for his stamina, integrity, wisdom and diplomacy. Kim was a slight, courteous man who said very little in public. But in private he became alive with determination to fight for press freedom, against the censorship and government interference which were the order of the day. President Park threatened to close down the paper, and journalists went on strike demanding the end of censorship and the withdrawal of the secret service agents who had been placed in the offices of Dong-A Ilbo and other papers.

The International Press Institute, of which I had been director, had sent strong protests to the government, and I had been asked to find out what the position was. On arrival I wanted to see the newspapers first of all: the government wanted me to come to them first. I insisted and went first to visit Kim Sang-Man and subsequently others in the press. Kim took me to the President and some government ministers. It was a difficult mission. In the end Dong-A Ilbo was not closed down but all advertising from commercial firms was withdrawn.

Kim appealed to readers and the public in general. Many people came to the newspaper office, despite the military, buying advertising space personally and privately in support of press freedom, which saved the paper. But harassment of journalists continued. Some journalists were reluctantly dismissed in order to pacify the authorities. However, the battle was not over. Even greater persecution and even stricter press controls were introduced by President Chun. His 'social purification' campaign resulted in even greater harassment.

Kim nevertheless helped his journalists as much as he could, sending some as foreign correspondents and specialist writers abroad, including the then editor of his paper. He supported others in need. Financially he suffered again as his successful radio station Dong-A Broadcasting System was shut down in November 1980 - officially to be integrated with the official Korean Broadcasting System.

During that time I went to Korea again to express direct international media support. I was taken by Kim to see President Chun. It was an even more difficult meeting than the one with his predecessor. Kim sat very quietly. To him it was an important encounter because by agreeing to have this meeting the President acknowledged Kim's prestige.

Kim was most gratified when he was appointed an Honorary CBE in 1974, and in 1981, when the crisis of his paper and the harassment of his journalists were at its climax, he was the first Korean to be appointed an Honorary KBE. Although he was granted the highest awards by both France and Germany, Britain remained his first love.

As a young man he came to London and studied at the London School of Economics, and became later on an Honorary Fellow. He took part in all the regular alumni meetings, the last one in July. He had also been President of the British Korean Society since 1967 and was host and sponsor to the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells, the London Symphony and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on their tours of South Korea. He loved the arts, opera and music particularly. In London he always went to Covent Garden and attended concert performances.

He enjoyed travelling immensely, had friends in politics, science and in the arts everywhere. Once a year he organised the Inchon Memorial Lecture in honour of his father and invited distinguished speakers. Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher were among those who spoke in the recent past.

On Kim's travels he visited many places in Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe. Wherever he went he sought to support those who suffered under press restrictions. He was Chairman of the Press Foundation of Asia for many years and in 1978 was elected to the Board of the International Press Institute and was made an Honorary Life Member in 1986. He could always be relied on for his support when press freedom cases came up: he always insisted that an attack on press freedom in one country was an attack on press freedom


At our last meeting in London in May, Kim was particularly concerned about developments in the former Soviet Union and Central and East Europe. He thought it was necessary, now that South Korea had achieved a free press, to focus attention on those who were still under censorship and government restrictions.