Some of you might remember all the media hype about the Cia Cia tribe, a group of 80,000 on the remote Indonesian island of Bau-bau, officially adopting Hangeul as their native script.

Well, that was a load of phooey.

The Hangeul adoption program, which was announced in 2008 was apparently never even asked for.

“Mayor Tamim (of the Cia Cia) only mentioned that official discussions have begun and he was consulting with the central government over the adoption of Hangeul in a media interview,” he said. “However, the media wrongfully translated his remark as if he had received formal acknowledgement from the government.”

The program, which was initially launched through the private funding of the Hunminjeongeum Society, ended up amounting to “a total of 37 hours to some 50 fourth graders last year at an elementary school in Bau-bau and now it is being taught to some 190 students in two schools,” says the KT

They also say that:

…a host of media outlets ran stories claiming that Bau-bau Mayor Amirul Tamim said the Indonesian government had finally authorized the adoption of Hangeul as the tribe’s official alphabet to preserve their dying language.

Reminiscent of the Jeju being one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World story this time last year, Korea’s media seems to have let national pride obscure their journalistic goggles.

Or maybe it was simply a case of there being a junior translator/fact checker at the copy desk that day?

“Mayor Tamim only mentioned that official discussions have begun and he was consulting with the central government over the adoption of Hangeul in a media interview,” he said. “However, the media wrongfully translated his remark as if he had received formal acknowledgement from the government.”

I am sympathetic to translation discrepancies, there are no doubt few if any Cia Cia in Korea to check the translation, but for at least several years it went unchecked or followed up on and was sold as part of the national brand without question.

With more spot on reporting, a similar piece in Ye Ole Chosun today says that the Cia Cia have a spoken language absent of a written format and that Hangeul was to be there go-to script.

Not so counters the KT article — Cia Cia law specifically states that when in Bau-bau, do as the Romans.

Professor Chun, who first proposed the idea of adopting the Korean alphabet to the Bau-bau mayor in 2007, claims that the official adoption of Hangeul by Cia Cia will be unlikely to happen as Indonesia’s Basic Law stipulates that all tribal languages should be preserved in Roman characters for national unity.

The KT also points out that, “Not only the Korean press but also foreign news media showed interest in Korea ‘officially exporting’ its 564-year-old writing system.”

The KT does not however, mention that they too were spun by the story.

But hey, if we extrapolate the KT numbers over of the life of the program, Hangeul did manage to reach 1.5 percent of the Cia Cia population. That’s at least worth a two or three day run in the news cycle right? Ahhh, the venerable Fourth Estate.