In October of 2022, a fan shared evidence of the mistreatment of Omega X they reportedly witnessed after attending a concert of the K-pop group. This led to more revelations from multiple sources on how their company treated Omega X. Since the incident, Omega X has announced that they want to terminate their contract with the entertainment company and has taken steps towards further legal action. Omega X is an 11-member South Korean boy group under Spire Entertainment (OMEGA X Members Profile (Updated!), 2022), that debuted at the beginning of 2021. The group was formed with members from disbanded groups and former survival show contestants, to walk toward their goals of success.
This paper will analyze the way this issue is reported online in-depth, the influence of the digital industry and digital technologies on journalistic practices regarding this matter, and the sociocultural and socio-political consequences. The issue between Omega X and Spire Entertainment is important because the K-pop world can be quite hard on their idols and trainees. If Omega X gets treated like this there are without a doubt other K-pop groups that experience similar things. So analyzing the way it is reported could allow other K-pop groups or fans to speak up too. The question that will be asked in this paper is: what are the different ways the audience gets informed about the case of the mistreatment of Omega X, and what are the consequences for the K-pop industry after reporting this news?
The mistreatment and abuse of Omega X in a series of news reports
To analyze the way this issue is reported online, it is important to get a timeline in place regarding the reveal of the abuse of Omega X. Chakraborty (2022) has put together a timeline from the first report of abuse which was on October 23rd until the time of writing of the article, which was November 16.
On October 23rd a fan of Omega X chose to share a concerning message on Twitter after she saw a woman shouting at the K-pop group while waiting for food after she went to Omega X’s concert. She felt the need to share this with the world. When other fans and the media got notified of this information they started to dig deeper and more occasions of the abuse of Omega X were found. Other fans claimed that they had also seen Omega X being yelled at in public by a female staff member (reportedly the CEO) in Chile.
SBS News, which is a Korean news site, also exposed Spire Entertainment and CEO Kang by putting up a series of videos that showed Omega X being abused and getting yelled at for not doing enough. Omega X was told it would be better to stop being idols if they could not handle the pressure it holds, this event involved even some violence. SBS News also released a phone call where the CEO denied all these accusations of abuse and mistreatment. The day after, Spire Entertainment made a statement saying that everything had been resolved with Omega X, however, fans did not believe this. They were proven right when it came to the light that Omega X had to pay for their flights back to South Korea themselves when Spire Entertainment canceled their tickets with an excuse about fans being on the same flight as Omega X. Omega X has shown the audience that they did not settle the matter as Omega X then created a separate account that was not connected to the entertainment company to state what happened themselves. They stated that they went through rough times at the company.
The company responded by sending its apologies about the matter and stated that the CEO had resigned from the company. This was not the end of the issue, as SBS News once again came out with more evidence. This consisted of blackmail, unethical behavior, the members being forced to hide having covid, and more. Finally, the members revealed they were going to hold a press conference to talk about the matter in which they revealed that Omega X would terminate the contract with the entertainment company and that they would take legal action for the events that have occurred. It was also confirmed by the members that they have been sexually harassed at drinking gatherings that they were forced to attend to be allowed to release music. With all this information out in the public Spire Entertainment threatened Omega X even further and did not give them an apology at all.
Different ways of reporting
In this timeline, a combination of different reporting styles can be found. In this article by Chakraborty (2022), the issue was talked about by different types of distributors. Only one of them was an actual news organization, SBS News. The other distributors of the news were Omega X itself, Spire Entertainment, and fans sharing things they have witnessed. Digital practices have influenced this a lot, and it is therefore different than most of the traditional news discourse from the past.
SBS News is the most traditional regarding news discourse but has also changed with the emergence of digital media. The relationship between the journalists and the elite, in this case, Omega X, has changed. An elite can be seen as an individual or organization “that possess the reputation and audience to command public attention on their own” (Carlson, 2016). Omega X is now able to state what happened with their entertainment company themselves. There is a second information flow apart from the traditional news media source, whereas traditional journalists were the only news source that selected, and distributed news to a large audience as was discussed in Sources As News Producers by Carlson (2016).
The traditional news source has changed from being needed by the elite sources as a way to get publication (antagonism) to a disintermediate source, a source that elite sources do not need anymore to be able to get publication (symbiosis). Omega X can now speak directly to their audience about the matter. The traditional news source has changed from a source that claims to a source that reports on what they saw was happening. SBS News saw that the fans of Omega X were accusing Spire Entertainment, and started reporting about the matter and then added information from other sources that they put together to lay out evidence about the incident. Which is what they shared in the videos published on October 24 and November 11 on their YouTube account. Spire Entertainment is also directly speaking to the audience by releasing a statement to try to change the issue more positively for themselves. The entertainment company is an elite source that takes the matter into its own hands instead of waiting for a news organization to pick up its story. Journalists are not able to gatekeep information anymore, they have gained competition from elite sources, and also from ordinary people which will be discussed in the next part.
Fans speak up
The fan that started this whole sequence of events is part of this ordinary people competition. The tweet by user @hwi_418 posted on October 23rd about them witnessing the mistreatment of Omega X after the concert can be considered a case of citizen witnessing. Citizen witnesses are ‘accidental photojournalists’ as it is called by Allan (2016) in Citizen Witness, and Nilsson (2019) in An Ethics of (not) Showing: Citizen Witnessing, Journalism and Visualizations of a Terror Attack. A citizen witness happens to be at the site where the event happens, they did not intend to be there. Either survivors, bystanders, first responders, or other similar things that feel the need to do something by telling someone. Because almost everyone has a telephone with most of the time a decent camera, this often happens to be choosing to film or photograph the event and then sharing it with their followers on social media. In this case, the fan tells their followers that they saw what happened and does not know what to do, as can be read on the Twitter post. By posting this the fan started the conversation on the issue. The fan did not intend for the event to happen while waiting for their food to arrive, they witnessed it by accident. The same goes for the other fan that posted about noticing Omega X’s mistreatment while in Chile for their concert.
A citizen witness also changes the way news reporting works from the past. Digital media has influenced this. The audience is still provided with a personalized insight into the event that is occurring but now it is not from a traditional news source anymore, it is from a social media platform that can be accessed from anywhere at any time (Allan, 2016). Citizen witnessing changed the way people see things, there is much more input from different people, so the news can have different sides to it, but citizen witness also has the problem that the event is seen from only one part that possibly does not tell the whole story. The traditional news would try to tell the whole story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and not a story with loose ends that can be found on social media platforms.
For a better industry
The mistreatment and abuse of the K-pop Omega X group cannot be reversed. The news about it however can help other K-pop idols and their fans to speak up about their problems during their career. Being a K-pop idol means being perfect at everything as Tai calls it in Exploding the myths behind K-pop (2020), but it is far from that. Behind the scenes there is a lot of pressure, starting from a young age when people start training to be K-pop idols and they do not want to fail. It is a very competitive industry, which results in people stepping on other people. So it is not a surprise that mistreatment like this can happen. The news of Omega X will probably help the part of the industry that experiences similar things because they know it is a possibility to get help, and it encourages fans to help out if they see it happening, like the tweet of the fan that was discussed in the paper. The way the news is reported can help, both the idols and the fans, in seeing what methods work and what methods do not work. Exposing this news may also help companies like Spire Entertainment to see their wrongdoings. K-pop can hopefully become a better place by revealing mishaps like this happening.
The mistreatment of Omega X: reported in different steps
The mistreatment of Omega X was reported in a very modern way by utilizing digital technologies. Without social media, the series of reports likely would have never been set in motion. The citizen witness that posted on Twitter about seeing how Omega X was abused set the tone for other people to report on the issue. Fans started investigating and telling stories when they heard about this to help Omega X. This is different from a traditional news discourse without social media involved. In traditional media, the citizen witness would not have been able to report their witnessing. They would not have had a phone with them and would not have had proof of the mistreatment. After the reveal by the fan SBS News took over, only they did not have the room to claim things for themselves anymore. SBS News can only report things that others have said now, like Omega X, Spire Entertainment, and the fans.
The news has become about stories with different sides. Omega X trying to speak up and take legal action, Spire Entertainment trying to save their company with some positive input, and the fans trying to defend Omega X by explaining what they have seen. SBS News only bundles this together in their news reports. The consequences of this news and the way it has been reported may help other K-pop idols to speak about the mistreatment they have faced, they know that it is possible and have seen the way other idols have spoken about the matter. The change to a more digital news discourse also changed the news that people believe, they do not only believe traditional news sources anymore, and therefore the news has gotten much more diverse. The mistreatment of Omega X is unfortunate but it may help others in trying to make the K-pop industry better and more human.
Carlson, M. (2016). Sources As News Producers [E-book]. In The SAGE Handbook of Digital Journalism (1st ed.). SAGE Publications.
Allan, S. (2016). Citizen Witness [E-book]. In The SAGE Handbook of Digital Journalism (1st ed.). SAGE Publications.
Nilsson, M. (2019). An Ethics of (not) Showing: Citizen Witnessing, Journalism and Visualizations of a Terror Attack. Journalism Practice, 14(3), 259–276.