South Korea

South Korea 4026
Photo by: Benjamin Huseman

South Korea

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Korea
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 47,904,370
Language(s): Korean, English
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 98,480 sq km
GDP: 457,219 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 116
Newspaper Consumption (minutes per day): 35
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 3,639,291 (Won millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 48.10
Magazine Consumption (minutes per day): 10
Number of Television Stations: 121
Number of Television Sets: 15,900,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 331.9
Television Consumption (minutes per day): 174
Number of Cable Subscribers: 8,391,020
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 177.4
Number of Radio Stations: 209
Number of Radio Receivers: 47,500,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 991.6
Radio Consumption (minutes per day): 61
Number of Individuals with Computers: 11,255,000
Computers per 1,000: 234.9
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 19,040,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 397.5
Internet Consumption (minutes per day): 42

Background & General Characteristics

South Korea is, by all measures, a media-rich country. As of 2002, this country of over forty-seven million people had as many as 116 daily newspapers, with the top three of its national dailies boasting circulation of more than two million copies each. Television is ubiquitous, too, with two national networks, over forty cable channels, and a digital satellite broadcasting service offering seventy-four channels. Additionally, some 6,500 periodicals—2,000 weeklies, 3,300 monthlies and 1,200 quarterlies—bombard the media market, each targeting its own share in the general as well as segmented audiences.

Koreans are avid users of new communication technologies as well. The availability and adoption of new communication devices in South Korea is on a par with the world's most industrialized countries. In a market of free economy and electoral democracy, Korea's mass media and its press fiercely compete among themselves while benefiting from a high degree of freedom from formal constraint.

Yet such a rosy picture of South Korea's media also has an undertone of anomaly in an odd mix of today's modernity and yesterday's traditional society. The anomaly surfaces in the form of instability, contradictions, irregularity, and cohabitation of old and new values and practices, especially in the present transitional phase of Korea's rapid industrialization. Press freedom is a case in point. The press enjoys a constitutionally guaranteed freedom, but often it behaves as if it doesn't have much freedom in its coverage of certain sensitive subjects such as the powerful military or the incumbent president.

This anomaly goes beyond the press circles, and is rather societal in scope, as Korea exhibited it, or tried to conceal it, for instance, during soccer's 2002 FIFA World Cup competition. On May 31, 2002, South Korea (as co-host of the games) had it officially declared open by the country's president, Nobel Peace laureate Kim Dae-jung. The opening event, a high-tech showcase plus traditional dances, was colorful and festive, but Kim himself was not a happy man at the time. The youngest of his three sons was in jail under influence-peddling charges, while his second son also was being investigated by the national prosecution for similar accusations. His political opponents declared a sort of truce for the month-long World Cup period as a "national face-saving" gesture. For the sake of national pride, even the President's opponents felt the need to keep "dirty clothes" in the closet while throngs of foreign soccer tourists were visiting the country.

The press of South Korea is a noisy, vibrant and powerful entity. This power, often elitist, is a legacy from the history of its press. The modern press in Korea began as weeklies in the 1890s during the waning days of the Chosun Dynasty (1392 to 1910). The hermit kingdom wanted to awaken their subjects to the rapidly modernizing world outside by offering a modern press. Enlightening the public was the primary objective of the press. When Japan colonized Korea in 1910, weeklies turned dailies, and privately owned dailies began to play the role of educators and independence fighters. Many of the then reporters and editors themselves conceived of their role in that way. For survival the press learned to compromise with the colonial ruling powers during the years between 1910 and 1945. This legacy served the Korean press very well after Korea's independence in 1948 and during the subsequent despotic and military regimes in the 1960s through the 1980s.

The same tradition thrives in today's Korean press. There is a healthy dose of skepticism toward the powerful in the civilian rule, balanced with a certain degree of compromise with the ruling power if necessary for business interests or survival. While the press is commercially sponsored and motivated to maximize profits, it often is considered an institution of public good or as a part of the ruling elite. A rising number of civil-society groups find this press behavior hypocritical, and demands the press be reformed from inside out by observing fair practices in competition and by honoring editorial independence that the press claims it practices. Press freedom for the people, not for the owners of the press, is a rallying cry of such civic groups.

The South Korean press benefits from the availability of a highly literate audience. The adult literacy rate is estimated to be over 97 percent; since literacy is not a national concern anymore, the Ministry of Education has stopped estimating it. Further, all Koreans speak the same language and Korea is a single-race society, although they have regional dialects and regionally based prejudices and rivalries. There are some negative consequences of this unidimensional character but, for the press, it is a wonderfully convenient market of audiences. Koreans practice various religions—52 percent Christian and 46 percent Buddhist—but Confucianism as Korea's prevailing credo unifies them all as one national community. The South Korean territory is one contiguous lot, hence the convenience in reaching all corners daily at the same time. The subscription fees to dailies, about $8 monthly, are an affordable rate given the rising affluence in the Korean economy.

Therefore it is no wonder that all dailies, especially the national papers, fiercely compete to capture the largest possible share of the same general audience. All major media groups are based in Seoul, the capital city. Seoul is more than a center of politics; it is the hub of Korea's business, economy, education, culture and arts, transportation, and most other areas of culture. It is a huge metropolitan area of some eleven million people, almost one quarter of Korea's population. Another 24 percent resides in the province adjacent to, and surrounding, the capital city. Korea's ten national general-interest dailies, mostly morning papers, are all based in Seoul. These national dailies set the pace of news and national agendas together with the increasing power of national television networks. The circulation of the national dailies is truly nationwide; some of the big dailies run locally based printing facilities to serve the readers in the provincial areas more efficiently.

The national papers publish 44 to 52 standard-sized pages daily. They all use the Korean language Hangeul . Until late 1990s, some of them printed editorial texts in vertical lines, progressing from right to left, also intermixing the Korean text with a limited number of Chinese characters. In the early twenty-first century the sole use of Hangeul is universal, and the text lines are horizontal as in the Western press. One physical difference in the look of the Korean press is the prominent display of some major advertising on the bottom half of the front pages because it is the most expensive ad space. Although all the ten national dailies strive to be quality papers that stress hard news, their news stories tend to be relatively short, which in turn is an indication that in-depth reporting is the exception not the rule.

Besides the general-interest national dailies, there are five business-financial dailies, two English-language dailies ( The Korea Times and The Korea Herald ), three children's dailies, a couple of electronic industry news dailies, and four sports dailies. These sports dailies are more like the popular press of the West. They are openly sensational with gossipy stories and revealing photos of popular entertainment figures on the front pages. In content and emphasis, they are more like entertainment dailies. Sometimes the sports sections of the national dailies are more informative than the so-called sports dailies. Indeed, the national dailies often dispatch more of their sports staff to major international sports events like the Olympic games than the sports dailies do. It is not an understatement to say that these sports dailies operate primarily to make money by sensationalizing news.

The English-language dailies serve the non-Korean community, especially the U.S. military contingent. There are about 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. The nation's economy and foreign trade is ever expanding so there are increasing number of visiting business people who find the English-language dailies useful. The Korea Times ( ) is an independently owned paper, while The Korea Herald ( ) grew as a government-subsidized outlet. In recent years, a growing number of college students subscribe to the English-language papers for their interest in learning English. To many Koreans, and the younger generation in particular, learning English is a sort of obsession. Competency in English is a must to landing a good job at many institutions in Korea. One prominent multinational corporation based in Korea now requires its employees to communicate solely in English in their offices. Some colleges and universities began to offer a certain number of their non-language courses in English.

There are thirty-nine local daily papers in Korea, published in nine provinces; they are mostly based in provincial capital cities and other urban centers. Their daily issues range between 24-36 pages long. Compared to the national dailies, their circulation is quite small—25,000 to 50,000 copies at most. Most Koreans residing in provincial areas take the national dailies as must reading while treating their local dailies as a supplementary source of news. However, most local papers try to be comprehensive papers by treating national news as prominently as the national dailies do, and then they strive to compete against the national dailies on their own turf. To make their business more difficult, most national dailies insert a few pages of local coverage in their provincially targeting editions.

Only two of the local dailies are known to be successful as the leading dailies in their respective city: the Busan Ilbo and the Daegu Maeil Daily . Their base cities, Busan and Daegu, are large: 3.5 million and 2.7 million residents respectively. They are the next politically and economically vibrant metropolitan areas, after Seoul. These two papers look like the prosperous metropolitan papers in the United States. Except for these two, the majority of Korean local dailies are weak in assets, heavily indebted, small in circulation, and relatively ineffective as news media. Even among the ten national dailies, only five are known to generate profits, with the other five only surviving with heavy loans for debt and budget shortfall. Such papers generally serve the interest of their owners as a shield for their businesses, as a tool for the owners' influence, and sometimes as a base of their political power in their respective region. Nominally, local papers may also serve as a symbol of civic pride in moderately sized cities.

As indicated above, the general-interest national dailies are the principal players of news in Korea. The day's top stories on their front pages, quite often identical across the ten different papers, make the entire nation talk and debate about them as priority concerns of the time. Of the ten, three leading papers— Chosun Ilbo , Joongang Ilbo , and Dong-a Ilbo —are truly the biggest; their combined circulation of 6.9 million copies constitutes 74 percent of Korea's total daily circulation of 9.4 million, as of May 2002. These three papers constitute a monopoly, and they engage themselves in cutthroat competitions for hegemony.

The Chosun Ilbo , arguably the largest-circulation daily, is also the most influential in Korea. Like other leading dailies, this paper is a mammoth media complex, publishing not only the main vernacular paper but a weekly newsmagazine, a monthly magazine, a women's monthly, a children's daily, and a sports daily. The company owns an art gallery and a tourist hotel, too. It also sponsors a variety of promotional programs like an annual literary debut award, arts and cultural presentations, sports events, and special lecture series on salient social issues. It is a family-owned media group like other leading dailies; its owner publisher, Bang Sang-hoon, serves as a vice chairman of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute. Its editorial direction is independent and conservative, hence the voice of Korea's traditionally conservative mainstream power structure. Its politics coverage is a must reading in the political circles. To President Kim, a left-of-center politician, Chosun Ilbo is an archenemy. Being the most influential and prestigious paper in Korea, the Chosun Ilbo draws plenty of top talents to its newsroom and taps well-known intellectuals as contributors. It enjoys an upper hand in the competitive newspaper market.

The Joong-ang Ilbo , the second-largest circulation daily, used to be owned by Korea's leading multinational business conglomerate Samsung Group. It is now independent and family owned but most Koreans suspect the tie with Samsung is still there in the operation of the paper. A relative latecomer, the paper is generally conservative in editorial leaning, but progressive and innovative in its management and editorial design. For this, it appeals to the career-minded professional class of the population. It publishes the Korean edition of the Newsweek magazine besides a general-interest monthly magazine and a women's monthly. A staunch supporter of free-market practices, it attracts a large number of readers for its business and financial news coverage. In the 1997 presidential elections, it unabashedly endorsed President Kim's opponent. For this, the paper's readership paid dearly. In 1999, President Kim's government arrested the paper's owner publisher Hong Seok-hyun under tax evasion charges; Mr. Hong was tried, found guilty, jailed briefly and later released on bail. Aside from the legality, jailing a prominent publisher was an unprecedented happening even the previous military rulers had not resorted to. In spite of the ordeal Mr. Hong had suffered on his own home turf, he was elected to presidency of the World Association of Newspapers in 2002.

The last of the top three, Dong-a Ilbo , used to be the pre-eminent critic of Korea's previous military or dictatorial regimes. During the civilian rule now, this paper still exerts its critical approach to uncovering ills and irregularities in all sectors from government to business. Since the scandal-ridden government of President Kim being the paper's frequent target, the relationship between the two is frosty and antagonistic. This paper also is family owned and is a media group of its own with a very prestigious monthly, a weekly newsmagazine, a children's daily, and other publications. In 2001 the publisher of this paper, together with the publisher of the Chosun Ilbo , was arrested and briefly jailed under charges of accounting irregularities and tax evasion. The case is still pending as of 2002, but the damage was done to both parties— credibility of the media and image of the incumbent president as a democratic leader.

Another paper, the Hankook Ilbo , used to be a big-league player with the other three, but it slipped from that club in the 1990s after the passing of its legendary and energetic founder-publisher Chang Key-young. The next generation of the Chang family did not do very well in managing the media complex the elder Chang had founded. Suffering from a huge debt, this paper survives on loans, and for that many observers speculate that its demise is a certainty and the only question is when. Its sister papers include the English-language daily The Korea Times , a children's daily, and a business daily. This paper has a reputation for playing soft-subject news such as entertainment, arts and culture, sports, and interesting foreign news. It has been the primary sponsor of Miss Korea beauty pageants. With such editorial emphasis, it had a huge appeal to the younger generation who did not particularly like the hard-news orientation and ostensibly elitist approach taken by other leading papers.

Besides the four above, there are six other national dailies that belong in a minor league in terms of their circulation sizes. The Kyunghyang Shinmun is unique for its own employees owning the paper. The Hankyoreh Shin-mun is noted for its progressive editorial emphasis. Founded in early 1980s after the death of Korea's first military ruler Park Chung-hee, this paper serves as the voice of center-left politics in Korea, hence an ally to President Kim Dae-jung, and the origin of its birth resembles Spain's El País . It was founded by a group of sympathizers who all contributed to the paper in the form of stock ownership. One of its standing editorial concerns is criticism of Korea's conservative newspapers, especially the big three and in particular The Chosun Ilbo . It also strongly supports South's reconciliation policy toward the North Korean regime. There is a paper serving as a government organ, Korea Daily News. Formerly named Seoul Shinmun , it is functional in at least one respect—good for deciphering the intent of the ruling regime on salient issues or governmental policies.

There are two national dailies founded by religious organizations: Kukmin Daily and Segye Times . The former is run by a locally prominent Christian group and the latter by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Their coverage of news is not in general religiously tilted, but their primary readership comes from their own religious following. There is one more national daily, Munhwa Ilbo , a paper founded by Korea's other multinational business conglomerate Hyundai Group, better known for its Hyundai cars. Munhwa in Korean means culture; there was an intent to carve a niche in arts and culture as its specialization. But over time, it has rather been seen as a front for the founding business group, especially for its founder's politics at the beginning. Hyundai's founder Chung Ju-yung once entertained a political ambition to run the country himself. In fact, he ran as a minor-party candidate in the 1992 presidential elections. At that time, many Koreans who admired his business acumen rather wished that he had better devote his life to the things he did very well, that is, making Hyundai cars and promoting them.

All these dailies, national and local combined, publish some 9.4 million copies for a population of forty-seven million people. That averages to 213 copies per 1,000 people. A national readership survey, conducted in December 2000 by the Media Today , a weekly journalism review, showed that 51.3 percent of the nation's households subscribe to daily newspapers. Subscription figures in Korea are best estimates by external parties of interest like the advertising sponsors' organization. Traditionally, Korean dailies do not reveal their circulations or participate in the Korea Audit Bureau of Circulations programs. They all exaggerate their circulation sizes. To make the matter worse, they all distribute a large number of promotional copies—31 percent of their circulations in one estimate—as a way of baiting readers and beating competitions. A best estimate from an advertising sponsors' group in November 2001 shows the circulation figures listed below for all national dailies and a few prominent local dailies:

Daily Circulations (as of November 2001):

National dailies (all in Seoul):

  • Chosun Ilbo (2,450,000)
  • Joong-ang Ilbo (2,350,000)
  • Dong-a Ilbo (2,100,000)
  • Hankook Ilbo (700,000)
  • Kyunghyang Shinmun (450,000)
  • Hankyoreh Shinmun (450,000)
  • Korea Daily News (400,000)
  • Kukmin Daily (350,000)
    South Korea
  • Munhwa Ilbo (300,000)
  • Segye Times (200,000)

Select local dailies:

  • Busan Ilbo (400,000)
  • Daegu Maeil Shinmun (170,000)
  • Kookje Daily News (of Busan)(100,000)

Economic Framework

During the period from 1997 to 1999, South Korea suffered a serious setback in its national economy because of the financial crisis that had also engulfed a few other Asian countries. This was a serious blow to the Korean self-esteem since by that time Korea had been continuing a highly successful rapid economic development for three consecutive decades. The International Monetary Fund stepped in, pressuring Korea to do a massive restructuring of its management of the financial institutions, liberalizing of regulatory mechanisms, and improving on the transparency in the accounting and administration of business operations. Owing to a nationwide rally, its economy bounced back in 2000. During the setback period, the media sector as a whole also incurred a sharp downturn in advertising revenues, but since 2000 the business has begun to regain its vitality.

The South Korean press draws almost 80 percent of its revenue from advertising, with the remaining 20 percent coming from subscription fees. The high rate of dependence on advertising means potential power of advertising sponsors, media owners' special care about the news that touches on such sponsors, and the need to drive up circulations, the base of ad rates. According to the Korea Press Foundation, a 1999 national sample survey of media personnel shows that media employees consider advertisers' pressure and their own media's internal interference as the two highest sources of threat to press freedom: 9.03 and 8.59, respectively, on a 15-point scale where 15 is the highest degree of threat. They rate the threats coming from governmental sources and legal constraint at the scores of 7.69 and 6.41, respectively.

Survey results like these are being touted by the government as evidence of the need for press reform to be done from inside. Indeed, a major report on the Korean press compiled in 2000 by the Kwanhun Club, a society of career journalists, concurred by concluding that any further progress of the Korean press depends on the press industry's willingness to tackle its own issues. Press unions and civic groups champion this cause. They specifically demand that the "rights to editorial independence" be guaranteed by an internal mechanism like editorial board so that the management cannot interfere with editorial decision-making processes. They further demand that a formal regulation be instituted to limit the proportion of the press owners' stocks to 30 percent of total assets. A bill to this effect has been pending in the National Assembly, Korea's parliament, for a couple of years, but supporters of the bill are a minority and many politicians are not willing to antagonize the powerful press moguls with such legislation. Even the government administration finds the bill problematic in terms of free-market ideals.

The so-called "rights to editorial independence" is a uniquely Korean concept. It doesn't refer to the concept of independent press free from political or ideological affiliations. It is a concept that tells the press owners to take their hands off from the decision-making processes in the newsroom. And it is based on the assessment that press owners are readily susceptible to governmental and ad sponsors' pressure because of their business interest. Owners of the press institutions hold a different view, of course. They suspect that such a demand is a ploy by the activist unions and the progressive subgroup of the news-room staff to shape the press along the lines of their political and ideological objectives.

Press unions are gaining influences in the management of their institutions. About 17,000 of Korea's 38,500 media employees are union members; employees at most major media institutions are unionized. The total of 38,500 media employees includes: print media personnel numbering 15,000; electronic media, 14,900; and press agencies, 640. Media employees are a dominated market at 85 percent male. The unions at television networks are especially strong, and their relationships with the management are often confrontational and acrimonious. Press unions are keenly interested in expanding newsroom prerogatives against management interference over editorial matters. On the other hand, such unions tend to go along with the management on measures related to the profit maximization of their media. Many of the local dailies are known to pressure their reporters to recruit ad sponsors for the well-being of their companies.

Korea's advertising is a $4.2 billion market as of 2001, according to statistics available from the Korea Press Foundation. Of this total 44.5 percent goes to electronic media outlets; 36.3 percent to print media outlets; and the remaining 19.2 percent to a host of other outlets such as billboards or events. Daily papers' struggle to capture the ad market is fierce, to say the least. It is especially so because the top three dailies monopolize 74 percent of the nation's total circulation. The top three compete for a bigger share of ad revenues to remain on the top ladder; the other national dailies do the same not to fall behind; and the majority local dailies just to survive. Their competition is akin to circulation wars. One daily is known to have distributed bicycles and mobile phone sets to lure new subscribers. Most other dailies hand out a variety of gifts as incentives for new subscriptions. A national survey conducted in 2001 revealed that about 10 percent of the nation's households read the papers delivered to their homes without paying for them. Many of these practices are violations of the Korea Fair Trade Commission rules, but somehow nobody in Korea seems to have the will to enforce the law.

Such shady business practices get worse with the majority of Korea's local dailies. Some of them are known to pay only nominal salaries to their newsroom personnel, asking them to collect commissions from new ad revenues they steer to the dailies. In this course, various unethical and illegal dealings do often occur, such as some reporters bartering publicity articles for new ad sponsorships or some others playing down negative stories involving some institutions if these places promise placing ad pieces. Local dailies are notorious for their dogged pressure toward institutions, public or private, for subscriptions. Many of Korea's public offices and business institutions tend to subscribe to a large number of dailies because of such pressure even though they really do not need multiple copies of papers at work places. In a sense, the government is to blame for the beginning of this practice since it traditionally has pressured public offices to subscribe to government-supported papers and display such papers to visitors to their places.

By tradition, there is no chain ownership of the press in Korea. Instead, a few families separately own the leading papers, with each one competitively developing its sister publications from its own mammoth press complex. Cross-media ownership existed until 1980 when the then military-turned-civilian government forcefully terminated it. That government also forcefully shut down a large number of local dailies, allowing only one viable local daily per province, of which there are nine. The method the government used at that time was certainly undemocratic, dictatorial and anti-free market. But there were a certain number of sympathizers in favor of the governmental actions on local dailies for their belief that something had to be done with corruption and illegalities attributable to the local dailies. The one-paper-per-province rule was lifted in 1987, the year when Korea began an era of truly free press and liberalization in politics. After this, the number of local dailies mushroomed, many of them with shaky assets not enough to run the press in a fiscally responsible manner.

For the newsroom personnel in the major national dailies, their pay is fairly high compared to Korea's $9,000-level per-capita GNP. A beginning reporter's annual pay is about $22,500; a five-year career reporter collects somewhere around $32,000; and, after ten years on the job, they command $40,000. This pay scale is comparable to the compensation at Korea's major multinational corporations. This relatively high pay scale is not without its critics from among those who view journalism as a service to the average person. These critics claim that today's journalists, because of their "comfortable" pay, increasingly identify themselves as members of the privileged sector and develop news and editorial matters accordingly with the tilted perspectives of the "have" class. Entering the newsrooms of such major dailies, however, is extremely competitive with thousands of applicants rushing to the annual recruitment for a dozen or so openings per paper. However, the pay scale at other national dailies and many of the local dailies is a lot lower than at major dailies. Some local dailies are even known to pay their reporters just nominally.

Press Laws

There is neither formal constraint of the press nor licensing of the journalists in Korea. The Korean judiciary is generally recognized to be independent, especially since the 1987 liberalization in politics. Still a divided country, South Korea faces the Stalinist North Korea on the northern half of the peninsula. Therefore, it still retains the controversial National Security Law, which has been termed by the UN Human Rights Committee as "a major obstacle to the full realization of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." If invoked vigorously, this law could pose a devastating threat to press freedom. But, in practice, it is rarely invoked against the press, especially since the regime of President Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) who pursues a "reconciliation" policy toward North Korea as his primary national agenda. However, some leading journalists often suspect that their private phone lines are being wiretapped by intelligence agencies. They claim they often hear some strange noises on their lines, especially on days when they work on some sensitive news subjects. On such occasions, they use several different cell phones alternately.

The Law on Assembly and Demonstrations is leniently enforced in favor of civic groups voicing their particular views or demands. The riot police eschew hurting demonstrators in an effort to rid themselves of the previous image of brutality from the 1960s through 1980s despotic regimes. The Trade Union Law also is enforced flexibly honoring the rights of average workers, especially under the center-left President Kim's rule. The Government Censorship Board functions only as a movie-screening and rating device that is primarily concerned about violence and sex, not politics.

Press laws, press freedom, and all other legal provisions relevant to the media stem from the Korean Constitution, which is somewhat unique in its stipulation of basic principles on press freedom. Article 21 of the Constitution clearly specifies that all citizens shall have the rights to free press and free speech and that censorship or prior approval of such rights shall not be practiced. However, the same article contains a couple of additional clauses that puts a limit to the scope of press freedom. The third clause states that standards for press, broadcasting, and press agencies' facilities shall be stipulated by law. The fourth clause specifies that the press and publications shall not encroach upon individuals' honor or rights nor shall they violate the prevailing public morality or societal ethical norms. This clause further states that citizens may request remedy to the damages inflicted upon their refutation and rights by the press or publications.

In other words, the press freedom in Korea is not an absolute freedom; it is a freedom to be practiced "responsibly," or the press should pay for its "irresponsible" practices under a constitutional provision. This constitutional stipulation is noted for its specificity in legislating the scope of press freedom and in codifying the concept of social responsibility of the press. In line with this constitutional mandate, various procedural laws have been enacted, the most prominent of such laws are the Registration of Periodicals Act and the Integrated Broadcasting Act. The Fourth Clause provision above has been implemented with the establishment of a "press arbitration commission" which is the first stop for filing complaints against the press before proceeding to the court.

Owing to the mechanism of the Press Arbitration Commission, a growing number of individuals and sometimes institutions have been taking their complaints against the press for remedy. The number of cases filed rose from 44 in 1981, the first year of the commission's operation, to 641 in 1999. Of these 641 cases in 1999, 244 cases got resolved amicably and 237 cases were withdrawn later. The rest eventually reached the court, where some cases got dismissed and some others are still pending.

On paper the operation of this arbitration commission sounds admirable and desirable in view of the rising civil-society concerns about the public's right to reply or right to access as a counter-balance against the press freedom that is mainly enjoyed by the established press institutions. In practice, it sometimes becomes the legally sanctioned method by which the powerful can wield threat against the press or give chilling effects. For instance, a government ministry once filed a complaint against several papers over their news coverage. On a few occasions, even Korea's influential national prosecutors resorted to this avenue to publicize their discontent with the press and demanded hefty sums of compensation. The use of the commission by public figures, especially the powerful officials, undermines the well-intentioned original rationale of the device. Public figures' effective use of this arbitration commission runs against a recent trend with the Korean court's willingness to consider actual malice as the requirement for libel cases involving public figures.

What makes the existence of the arbitration commission more awkward in Korea is the fact that it functionally duplicates and actually undermines the already existing Korean Press Ethics Commission. As Korea's press council, this ethics commission has been doing the job of journalism's ethical self-control ever since 1961 under the guideline of the Standard of Practices for the Code of Press Ethics. Being voluntary in nature, this ethics commission had not enjoyed sufficient funding and the clout of judicial-sounding sanctioning power. Nevertheless, during the year 1999, for comparison, it drew as many as 230 cases of complaints against the press. Not having a legal, and hence official, status was its own blessing because the ethics commission has been free from governmental interference, whereas the arbitration commission is subject to ruling regime's influences in the staffing of its members.

Korea's ruling powers and the press are jointly to blame for the constitutional stipulation on the social responsibility of the press. This legislation simply means "abuses" by the press are not to be tolerated, whereas the press as a whole has not been aggressive in its voluntary ethical self-control. To make the matter problematic, such "abuses" often included "dissatisfaction with the press" on the part of the powerful. The Code of Press Ethics, first adopted in 1957, is jointly endorsed by three of the nation's major professional associations: Korean Newspapers Association, Korea News Editors' Association, and Journalists Association of Korea. Revised and expanded in 1996, the code and its Standard of Practices are a meticulously detailed statement on ethical issues, running over 13 pages in length as printed in the Korea Press 2001 annual.

Here is an example of the Standard of Practices provisions on "Bribery and Entertainment" in the article on "Dignity of Journalists":

"News media and journalists, in relation to their news gathering, reports, commentary, and editing, should not receive economic advantages from the parties of vested interest in such forms as monetary offerings, entertainment, free trips, expenses for news-gathering trips, commercial goods, coupons, and expensive mementos. …"

The irony of it all is that it is exactly what a large number of Korean journalists routinely violate. The envelope of cash changing hands from news sources to reporters is called Chonji in Korean, literally meaning "a small consideration." Such a small consideration in cash may range from $25 to $100, depending on the weight of the news item involved. Chonji has been a chronic ill of the Korean press. In the 1990s, a progressive sector of the journalist circles staged a reform campaign against this shady practice with some success. But now, it is not being talked about much, while the practice continues surreptitiously in a low-key mode. The Report on the Korean Press 2000 , of Kwanhun Club, resignedly concludes by saying that " Chonji by now has set in as a routine practice in the Korean journalism."

A 1999 national sample survey of journalists revealed some interesting results on Chonji . "Are you aware of Chonji practices?" (yes, 73.8 percent; no, 26.0 percent). "What's your attitude toward taking Chonji ?" (absolutely no, 29.1 percent; if possible avoid it, 60.2 percent; accept it if not for seeking favor, 10.7 percent). "Reasons for delivering Chonji ?" (for playing up news, 29.3 percent; for playing down news, 15.3 percent; customarily without any particular purpose, 51.8 percent). " Chonji delivery methods?" (directly by news sources,79.5 percent; via press corps, 17.1 percent). An American journalist, David E. Halvorsen, had a culture shock over Chonji in Korea during his brief visit there under a Fulbright grant in early 1990s. After learning Chonji practices, he asked a Korean colleague about this blatant violation of press ethics. The Korean colleague explained that Chonji is but an expression of the "good old Korean custom of exchanging gifts between friends." He rhetorically retorted by asking "if it is such a virtue, why do you not publicize it in your paper?"

Ethical lapses continue to undermine credibility of the Korean journalism. Early in 2002, about ten journalists, mainly of sports and business dailies, were indicted allegedly for taking bribes from movie industries and high-tech companies for publicity reporting. The Media Today , a weekly journalism review, frequently exposes press corps members of certain news beats taking junkets while accompanying high-ranking officials' overseas trips. The most notorious of this practice was the 1999 junket to Mt. Kumgang-san Resort, a scenic spot in North Korea developed by the gigantic Hyundai Group. Many publishers and CEOs of media institutions, together with their spouses, took free trips to the resort under Hyundai's promotional sponsorships. A Hyundai official once revealed that as many as 1,500 journalists might have taken such trips free while the tourism project itself had been a political issue of pros and cons all along in South Korea. A failure in business terms, the project survives with hefty subsidies from the government of President Kim who takes it as a showcase of his controversial reconciliation policy toward North Korea.


There's no censorship of the press and there's no government agency doing media control per se. Yet, in Korea, the will of the president, often termed "imperial," permeates the culture of the newsroom in one way or another. In President Kim's case, his reconciliation policy toward North Korea is a case in point. For this, no media in Korea call North Korea communist. It is just North Korea. Its leader, Kim Jong-il, is not called a dictator; instead he is called "chairman." Refugees from North Korea, increasing in number in the 2000s, are being treated somewhat lightly in the Korean press; for one, President Kim's government doesn't want to make a big deal about it for fear of offending the North Korean leadership. Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, a member of the German medical group Cap Anamur, is prominent in the Western press for his dogged effort in exposing sub-human conditions in North Korea. One has to read Reuters dispatches out of Beijing to learn about refugee problems, or for that matter ABC's Nightline program or news from U.S. congressional hearings.

President Kim's administration has repeatedly barred the Dalai Lama from visiting Korea; it is a baffling case of one Nobel Peace laureate not allowed to visit the country headed by another laureate. Kim's government doesn't want to offend China over the Dalai Lama case, and the Korean press in general treats it accordingly. North Korea's famine, human-rights violations, or weapons of mass destruction are not exactly taboos, but not many journalists in South Korea cover them in an enterprising or in-depth manner. If there were such reporters, they would be seen as obstructing the government's reconciliation endeavor. In July 2000, the North Korean regime verbally threatened that the Chosun Ilbo is a paper that needs to be "destroyed by explosion." Against this threat, the Korean government did not air any serious rebuke at all. In the same year, South Korea marked the 50th anniversary of the Korean War (1950 to 1953), but the press in general refrained from mentioning the North's invasion of the South as the beginning of the war.

The absence of formal censorship doesn't mean the Korean press functions as an independent agent of a free flow of information. Self-censorship is chronic and pervasive when the press has to deal with issues involving the so-called "sacred region." Such a region includes the Blue House, the presidential executive mansion, and a few agencies of power such as the National Intelligence Service (formerly KCIA), National Tax Service, Defense Security Command, and the National Prosecutors Office. On the other hand, the press resorts to an extensive coverage of such agencies by taking an "other-directed" approach, a variant of reactive journalism. For instance, if a National Assembly member raises an issue with some suspected corruption in the National Prosecutors Office, the press plays up the "who said what" mode of reporting that often turns out to be quite successful in forcing the government to do investigation and clarify the suspicion. However, the press' initiative or affirmative approach to uncovering some issues often triggers libel threats by the powerful.

State-Press Relations

Generally speaking, the South Korean press enjoys a high degree of freedom. The New York-based Freedom House, in its latest Freedom in the World 2001-2002 re-port, certified South Korea as one of the free countries of liberal democracy. South Korea also received a favorable review of its political rights and civil liberties from the U.S. Department of State's latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2001 . The era of illegal oppression of the press and journalists was ended in 1987 when there was a massive, nationwide popular rally for liberalization in politics. The ruling power at the time, a military-turned-civilian government, chose the course of liberal democracy under pressure and perhaps in consideration of the upcoming hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

But a careful observation of the press-government relations also exposes a lot of loose ends in the implementation of the rule of law involving the press. To some extent, it is the making of the press itself for its laxity in ethics and habitual lapses in business practices. As causes for this trend, some critics cite dysfunctional legacies of Confucianism alive in the Westernized social systems that characterize today's Korea. For this viewpoint, recall the discrepancy between what the Korean press' Code of Ethics says and what many journalists routinely do with Chonji . During the 2000-2002 period, South Korea exposed its weakness in the press-government relations in a spectacular way by jailing the powerful publishers of all the Top Three national dailies under tax evasion charges.

Early in 1999 President Kim's administration humiliated the owner publisher of the Joong-ang Ilbo by indicting and trying him under tax evasion and embezzlement charges. For similar charges, the government continued to expand its investigation to twenty-three other media companies in 2001; thirteen executives, including heads of the two other top three dailies, have been indicted and briefly detained. Their cases are pending in the court as of 2002. In the meantime, the National Tax Service found them delinquent in tax payment in the amount of $380 million including fines. The Korea Fair Trade Commission has begun to tighten implementation of its rules with the media industry. In this organized and well-planned assault on the press, Kim's government deployed the powerful national Prosecutor's Office skillfully.

In the wake of this government-press confrontation, the International Press Institute placed South Korea on its roll of infamy, the IPI Watch List, in 2001. This watch list has four other countries as of 2002: Russia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. In September 2001, while blacklisting South Korea, the IPI concluded that the massive tax probe was politically motivated and that the "exorbitant fines threaten the very survival of most of the media companies." Joining in this condemnation were seven other international press groups: the Committee to Protect Journalists, Commonwealth Press Union, Inter-American Press Association, International Association of Broadcasting, International Federation of the Periodical Press, World Association of Newspapers, and the World Press Freedom Committee. The Reporters Without Borders, in its annual report for 2002, also took a critical view of the Korean development by saying that the "ar-rest of three press bosses … cast a doubt on the government's intentions concerning the opposition press."

The press-government duel in early 2000s is, of course, a case of selective applications of the law by the ruling power. And, at the same time, it was retaliation by President Kim who felt he needed to cower the press moguls who all along had severely criticized his administration and in particular many of the specific measures of his reconciliation policy toward North Korea. It turns out that President Kim did not succeed in muzzling the conservative press since all the accused media companies continue to relentlessly criticize his administration and policies. As of early 2002, the wheel of fortune turned against the incumbent president himself, with the nation's media having their feast with salacious stories on alleged misconducts committed by two of the president's three sons and also involving a foundation founded by the president himself.

The Executive Board of the IPI, in its meeting in May 2002, reaffirmed the five countries on the watch list. However, President Kim, too, is not without an ally in the international circles. The International Federation of Journalists, which held its world congress in Seoul in June 2001, has endorsed Korea's trade union views that the tax probe against the media tycoons is not related to with press freedom. In fact, President Kim has his backing from a variety of civic groups in Korea, mostly of progressive orientations, the most prominent of which is the People's Coalition for Media Reform. It is a coalition of forty-three civil-society groups and NGOs, whose primary contentions are that a limited number of media moguls manipulate national agendas and that more avenues for access to the media have to be accorded to the citizenry at large.

The civic coalition has done a convenient proxy job of public relations on behalf of President Kim by stressing the need to clean up media complexes. Indeed, some of the coalition groups have received some subsidies from governmental agencies for their civic and NGO objectives. Some others were known to be politically active supporters of the causes of President Kim's ideological orientation, one that is quite different from Korea's traditional mainstream conservatism. Several of the coalition groups have been very active in staging what is known as "anti- Chosun " campaign, a boycott movement against the most influential newspaper of Korea. This campaign boasted a half-a-million subscription drops as its objective.

Within the government President Kim has relied heavily on a group of hard-core supporters who mostly came from his birth province. The cronyism of this sort has been endemic across all Korean regimes, but the degree has been extreme in President Kim's administration. The two most important posts for the government's press relations are the Press Secretary at the presidential office and the Minister of Culture and Tourism, a public relations office in effect. These two positions have invariably been filled by men of President Kim's native province. Further, the government has subtly pressured major media companies to place the men and women of President Kim's regional origin at key newsroom posts "for smoother relations" with the government. At one time, all the politics editors at major dailies and television networks were such employees.

Making the press-government relations more intriguing in Korea is the pervasive trend of many practicing journalists readily changing their hats to press-related governmental jobs. Such government functionaries are known to be very effective in managing news in the government's favor since they have a wide network of friends in the media sector from their previous careers. It is not uncommon to see a politics editor or chief editor of a major daily suddenly emerge as a government official whose job is to deal with the press. Many concerned scholars argue that this trend undermines credibility of the Korean press. At election times, political parties talk about recruiting candidates from the media circles for their name recognitions and electability. In the 2002 National Assembly, Korea's parliament, 13 percent or thirty-nine of the 299 members are journalists-turned-politicians. Journalism was a stepping-stone to their political careers.

The press corps system in Korea is also a problematic institution. On all major government news beats there are press corps that have exclusive memberships. Only major media representatives are accepted as regular members, and those who are not regular members are often barred from attending press functions. Press corps not only facilitate news development at the beats, but can also facilitate standardizing of news. An effective press secretary can work out news management with the corps, too. Making the press corps members happy is one of the press secretary's main duties, and conceivably there may be many different ways of achieving that objective. Since the mid-1990s, the rigid press corps at central government offices began to recognize and tolerate their news sources' need to work with the representatives from non-member media institutions.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

In as much as Korea's economy is a trade-intensive structure, Korea's interactions with the external world are extensive and expansive. Millions of Koreans travel abroad annually and a large number of Korean students pursue advanced studies abroad. Since there is no censorship or restriction against foreign news, the country as a whole is generally well-informed.

Seoul itself is covered by foreign resident correspondents or Korean stringers for eighty-five media institutions of twelve countries, many of them from the United States and Japan. Some foreign media cover Korea from their Tokyo bureaus. Many of these foreign correspondents have offices either in the Korea Press Center or in the major media complexes of their connections. They run their own Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club. Foreign correspondents in Seoul need to be accredited by the government, but this requirement is a mere formality since there is not any particular restriction other than some cultural barriers they all need to overcome themselves. Besides the usual language barrier, one particular difficulty that bothers foreign correspondents is the nationalistic attitude some government sources exhibit when the foreign media attempt to cover negative news about Korea.

Up until the 1980s the Korean press presented international news extensively, particularly about the United States and other major countries of the world. For instance, on the occasion of U.S. presidential elections, major dailies used to devote several full pages exclusively to the U.S. elections. But an attention to international news began to decrease in the 1990s although newspapers' total number of pages per issue increased. The way they cover major news today began to be presented in the Korean conceptual frame and relevance. Though understandable and even desirable, such an orientation to foreign news sometimes results in distortion of the broader context of the news. An example of this was evident in the Korean press' coverage of America's war on terrorism in the fall of 2001. Most of the Korean papers treated it merely as America's "retaliatory" war; to them, global terrorism as a threat to humanity was not much of an issue at all, despite the fact that South Koreans themselves had been victims of North Korean terrorism. The most fantastic case was the explosion and downing of a Korean Airline passenger plane by suspected North Korean agents right before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 1983 a presidential entourage of as many as 17 high-ranking Korean officials was killed in Myanmar by North Korean agents. North Korea kidnapped several Japanese citizens in the past and still keeps them in the North. For Japan, this is a major hang-up in its relations with North Korea, but most of the Korean media do not take an issue like this seriously.

The particular way the Korean press covers international news is attributable to Korea's remarkable success in its industrialization and democratization. These two fronts of advance, in economy and political life, brought with them a similarly remarkable expansion of the domestic market for the media, as news sources and news consumers as well. It also meant a rise in Korea's self-esteem as a nation, confidence in things Korean, and increasingly sophisticated consumer interest on the part of the audience for their daily lives. A parallel example is evident in the average American's relative indifference to international news while the media tend to be selective in covering the world with an America-centered world-view.

In the Korean case, the inner-directed mode of reporting on the world works as a limiting factor that further worsens its already non-global socio-cultural characteristics. Koreans are one single homogeneous race, breeding ethnocentrism. Their language is only used in Korea, but many Koreans believe Korean is the world's most scientifically structured language. They all inherit one identical history and an identical set of customs, mores, rituals, and traditions. The media fare produced for such a homogeneous audience is bound to be for the Korean market primarily, and not as popular outside.

The Korean press, in its coverage of foreign news, is relatively indifferent to Africa and South America, reflecting Koreans' general orientation to the world. During the World Cup soccer coverage in June 2002, Korean television habitually called Africa the "black continent" and the Senegalese team the "black lions." A strong current in the South Korean attitude toward the communist North Korea is a sentimental one—"still my brothers." With the United States and Japan, Korea has a special love-hate relationship. Both countries are critical of Korea's trade and geopolitical necessities, but at the same time, Koreans resent America's unilateral, heavy-handed approach to matters of Korean concerns. In their dealings with Japan, most Koreans always recall Japan's colonial rule between 1910 and 1945. Therefore, most Korean media are very selective and careful in their use of Japanese cultural and media programs.

News Agencies

There is only one organized supplier of foreign news in Korea, the Yonhap News Agency. In the 1980 restructuring of media systems, the government forcefully consolidated several existing wire services into this one agency and put it under ownership by two leading broadcasting networks. Since these two broadcasting networks are public, hence government controlled, Yonhap News Agency is in effect under government control. Its top management is usually appointed with the government's blessing, and often with the President's.

Because of this governmental control, Yonhap's news coverage is less than independent on nationally sensitive issues. During the 2001-2002 period, Korea's major media had to deal with continually evolving scandals of one sort or another involving the ruling party, the president's secretariat, and more significantly many of the president's relatives. Yonhap has been relatively weak in such coverage. Yet Yonhap has been aggressive in reporting on America's domestic criticism of President Bush's remark on the North Korean regime as a part of an "axis of evil." Yonhap, like most other Korean media, did not choose to examine if the Stalinist North Korean regime is an evil or not; it is rather concerned about the remark's impact on President Kim's reconciliation policy toward the North.

Yonhap, as the sole news-supplying wire agency, distributes international news to the nation's media with translations accompanying the original foreign wire feeds from such majors as AP, AFP, Itar-Tass, Kyodo, and Xinhua. Yonhap stations its own correspondents abroad, eighteen as of 2002, in major locations like New York City, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow. Yonhap also serves as a domestic-news supplier, whose service is critical to the smaller media in provincial areas that can't afford their own correspondents in other places within the country.

For major media in Korea, Yonhap is not the only provider of foreign news. For one, they themselves have their own correspondents, mostly a one-person bureau, in a select number of strategically located cities of the world. As of 2002, the Chosun Ilbo , for example, had one correspondent each in New York City, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing and two correspondents each in Washington,D.C., and Tokyo. Additionally, most of the major media have supplementary lines of additional news and syndicated material from the world's better-known media. For instance, the Joong-ang Ilbo has exclusive news-exchange programs with the International Herald Tribune , Newsweek magazine, and the Wall Street Journal . In the 2000s, the Internet-based websites of foreign media began to emerge as an additional source of fast-breaking foreign news, thus posing competition against the traditional wire service.

Broadcast Media

Korea's broadcasting media enjoy a lively and lucrative market. As in many other countries, television is the primary medium of news to most Koreans. Major networks' news programs play equals to the major national dailies as pace-setting and agenda-setting agents. In politics and at election times, their coverage is a sought-after avenue of exposure and impact. A media use survey by the Korea Press Foundation showed that, in 2000, an average adult Korean watched television as much as 174 minutes daily, while reading newspapers 34 minutes, listening to radio 61 minutes, reading magazines 11 minutes, and using the PC/Internet 42 minutes. Serial dramas are extremely popular on television. Popular subjects include court intrigues of the Chosun Dynasty and complex human relations or generational conflicts in the changing Korean family.

Two national networks, both public, dominate Korea's television market. The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), with twenty-five local stations, covers the entire country, while the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) does the same with nineteen local stations. KBS runs two channels. KBS 1TV is supposed to be a main public channel and 2TV a home service and entertainment channel, but in reality the difference between the two is often blurred. KBS 2TV carries commercials as MBC does; MBC, public in ownership and mandate, actually operates as a commercial broadcasting medium. KBS collects license fees from all television set owners—about $48 annually per set. A regional station, Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), has its own niche in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Additionally, Korea has one educational broadcasting system (EBS) and a number of small-scale cable television channels. Cable television has not gained a foothold yet, with new ones popping up and some old ones collapsing intermittently. Yonhap Television News (YTN) is emerging as an all-news channel, a subsidiary of the Yonhap News Agency. Younger Koreans watch the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) television channel—some to polish their English and others for trendy American programs. In March 2002, an ambitious digital satellite broadcasting system, SkyLife, began its operation, offering seventy-four channels. It is heavily financed with public-sector investment as a showcase project of President Kim's administration. As a brand-new system, it is struggling with a very small share of subscribers at the beginning phase.

Commercialism and independence are two strong opposing forces in with television, especially with KBS and MBC. Both are public and both have their own boards of directors, but the government has its final say on the manning of the top management of the two systems. Successive governments used to pledge independence of the public broadcasting but once installed, they invariably resorted to cronyism. They simply did not want to risk the popular television run by independent-minded management. Ratings competition between the two public broadcasting networks often resembles a competition for sensationalism. Professor Yu Jae-cheon, principal writer of the Report on the Korean Press 2000 , loudly lamented this sensationalism in 2001 by asking: "Who in the world will call the KBS 2TV or MBC TV a public broadcasting?" The government control of public broadcasting remains a main issue of protest by trade unions and various civic groups. In 2002 the political opposition lodged protest against MBC's election campaign coverage as being tilted in favor of the ruling party. The International Press Institute (IPI) at its 2001 annual General Assembly, had condemned politicization of public broadcasting as growing in "various regions of the world, including countries in transition." The Ministry of Culture and Tourism insisted South Korea is not named in this IPI resolution; the IPI later confirmed South Korea was indeed part of the target.

KBS is a gigantic system with some 6,000 employees. Its facilities and equipment are state of the art. It benefited from its role as the host broadcaster for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, yet it remains an underachiever in terms of quality productions for the global market. Conceivably, KBS could develop some joint productions with such other public broadcasting institutions as Japan's

South Korea
NHK, Britain's BBC or America's PBS. It has the manpower and skilled staff, and it has the revenue collected from the compulsory license fees, but its primary interest seems rested in the domestic market. In early 2000s, a limited number of Korean television programs, mostly soap-opera variety, began to be aired in some Asian countries like Vietnam and China.

Electronic News Media

The adoption and use of the Internet and online versions of the press are extensive in South Korea. Most of the nation's media offer online versions with news and other editorial contents. The websites of major media— daily newspapers and television networks—are highly graphic in presentation, speedy in delivering breaking news, and interactive for a variety of services like instant polls. They are all accessible free of charge. Often they offer truncated English versions, too. The established media's websites can be readily accessed through links provided by the Korea Press Foundation ( ). The online press is very popular among the younger generation and in particular college students. Since such online press has news for tomorrow morning the night before, Korean Americans in the United States because of the time difference can read Korean news half a day before their relatives in Korea, who are still in bed.

The use of the Internet in Korea has passed the mark of majority: 58 percent or 27.8 million among the population as of March 2002. The Nielsen/NetRatings ranked Korea sixth largest in the world for Internet users in a survey of twenty-nine countries. The same survey showed 166 million users in the United States, 56.6 million in China, 51.3 million in Japan, 32.2 million in Germany, and 29.9 million in the United Kingdom. In Korea among media websites, Chosun Ilbo 's site ( ) had 2.9 million visits per week, making it the most popular.

Of some 100 news sites in operation, more than half are run by the establishment media. However, news sites being offered by groups of special interest are increasing in number. This trend raises the vexing questions such as how to define the journalist, news media, and the legality of applying procedural laws governing the conventional media to new media. In the meantime, such websites are beginning to draw public's attention for their occasional scoops in exposing some sensational news. They emerge as alternative media, fostering their own specialty and followers. During the 2002 World Cup fervor, several of such alternative sites posted live video segments and fast-breaking news sometimes faster than did the mainstream media.

One of the alternative news sites, "OhMyNews" ( ), only two years old as of 2002, had a following numbering around 350,000 users, and page views reached 700,000 daily. Founded by a former journalist, this particular news site relied on as many as 1,300 volunteer reporters who practiced the site's catchphrase, "All citizens are reporters." In one poll, this site was rated as one of the nation's top ten news media of influence. Another site, "INews24" ( ), specializes in Internet-related information technology news. "EDaily" ( ) specializes in economic and business news analysis, so does "MoneyToday" ( www.moneytoday. ). A survey conducted in June 2000 by Cheil Communication, a Samsung subsidiary ad agency, revealed that, at least in major cities, the online press is being taken as the third most important medium of news after television and newspapers, more important than radio, magazines, and cable television.

There is no particular restriction on the online news supply. Yet the legal status of the Internet-based online press is unclear; it is neither considered a print media nor treated as broadcast media. Some website operators, however, complain that the government's concern about online privacy or pornographic materials is becoming a press freedom issue. The Constitutional Court ruled in June 2002 that the online press is a medium that enjoys constitutionally guaranteed press freedom. If there is another concern with the Internet-based media, it is the language barrier working as a digital divide for those who are not proficient in English, hence not fully utilizing an increasing number of useful sites available from the English-speaking world. The spread of Internet users in Korea is rather implosive, not necessarily tapping the treasure abroad. Yet the Korean government encourages international information technology firms to use Korea as a test market for new products.

Education & Training

The field of journalism and mass communication studies, together with advertising and public relations, has been one of the most popular college majors ever since the 1970s when Korea began its industrialization drive. University degrees are not a formal requirement to journalism, but without one, aspiring journalists do not stand any chance of entering the field. Curriculum is generally theoretic, combining little hands-on orientation or practical experiences. American-educated professors constitute a large bloc of the teaching staff, with those from European education increasing in recent years. Reporting jobs at major national media groups are a highly coveted positions. They generally have a dozen or so openings a year, and it is not uncommon to have thousands of applicants swarming the recruitment desks. A number of graduates find jobs at service industries and other corporate communication avenues. Many employers find journalism majors useful and productive for their competency in communication skills. As of 2000, sixty-seven colleges and universities offered majors in journalism or mass communication studies, while twenty of them also offered advertising or public relations majors. Compared to 1990 it was a rapid expansion: from twenty-seven to sixty-seven and from three to twenty, respectively. Each department admits twenty-five to forty new students per year.

The International Communication Association (ICA), the world's largest academic society in the field, held its 2002 biennial conference in Seoul, in part as recognition of the vitality of the field in Korea. In 1994 another major group, the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) convened its annual world congress in Seoul, too. The host for these international events was the Korean counterpart, Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies (KSJCS).

Besides press unions, journalists and other media-sector employees have a variety of professional associations. These groups frequently conduct seminars and workshops for in-service education and debates on salient occupational concerns. The powerful among these include the Korean Newspapers Association, Korea News Editors' Association, and the Journalists Association of Korea. Press unions also are very active; about 50 percent of all media-sector workers are affiliated with unions, having chapters at sixty-nine media institutions, including all the majors. They are very vocal for their own welfare, but they also deal with a variety of professional concerns, too. Several press foundations, including Samsung, LG, and Sungkok, actively promote and provide support for in-service education of journalists at home and abroad.

South Korea

One press group, the Kwanhun Club, is noted for its public affairs participation. A society of mid-career journalists, this group often conducts nationally televised presidential debates. Kwanhun Club initiated a comprehensive examination of the Korean press by organizing a team named "The 2000 Committee on the Korean Press" in 1995. This committee was patterned after Britain's Royal Commission on the Press and America's "Hutchins Commission," the Commission on Freedom of the Press. After five years of deliberation and study, the club released the committee's report, Report on the Korean Press 2000 , the first ever of its kind in Korea. This report generally stresses the import of strengthening professionalism in the Korean journalism and the need for voluntary press reform from inside of its institutions.


The Korean press and other media industries have been one major beneficiary of Korea's rapid industrialization and liberalization in politics. The domestic market with a highly literate population has expanded and diversified extensively, thus providing a rich base of news sources and economic support for the media. There is not any direct and formal control of the press, nor is there any censorship or physical threat against the journalists. The free press of Korea now enters an era to grow and prosper as one of responsible and accountable institutions.

As a social system of the Korean culture, the press cannot be expected to be entirely independent and free from the general mores, norms, customs, and traditional values inherited from Korea's time-honored history. Yet the press as a modern institution has to deal with some antiquated legacies that do not fit well with modern sensibilities and universal standards. Chonji and ethical laxity are but one example. Owners of major media complexes are desired to be more attentive to the societal call for editorial independence and integrity in the newsroom. They are desired to be known as ones with certain philosophies of journalism as much as they are as business executives. Well-intentioned media critics look to the US press dynasties of the Graham family's Washington Post or the Ochs family's New York Times as models Korea lacks. Korea as a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is becoming a global player and its press could afford to break its cocoon and be more global in its outlooks and coverage.

The Seoul metropolitan area has too many redundant general-interest newspapers competing for the same audience without offering different fare. Almost one half of the ten national dailies do not seem to show any sensible reason for existence. It is time for the government to take their hands off the publicly run media: KBS, MBC, Korea Daily News, Yonhap News Agency, and Yonhap Television News. Korea's democracy is vibrant enough to do away this antiquated practice of state-run media. With freedom, competition bloomed, but too many local dailies compete for nothing but their own owners' dubious objectives, thus breeding corruption of journalism. Failing papers need to fail for the good of the rest.

In early 2000s, the government of President Kim Dae-jung initiated a needless confrontation with the nation's major news media groups. Jailing the owners of the top three national dailies only brought shame to Korea in the form of an induction onto the IPI Watch List. Though a genuinely civilian government, his administration resorted to a variety of shady practices to indirectly control the press while he himself had been a free-press champion as an opposition politician during the previous military rules. The Korean press is strong enough not to be capriciously controlled by such harassment. As an institution, the press has survived the harsh military rules of the previous era. Now, under civilian rule, the press learns to cope with the whim of rule of law, its twists and bents.

Significant Dates

  • 1997: Kwanhun Club conducted the first televised presidential debates.
  • 1998: President Kim Dae-jung's administration began confrontational relations with mainstream media groups; a professor serving as chief of the president's Policy Planning Committee resigned from the post after the Monthly Chosun questioned his views on the origin of the Korean War.
  • 1999: The government indicted and tried the owner-publisher of the Joong-ang Ilbo for tax evasion and embezzlement.
  • 2000: About fifty media executives visited North Korea at invitation by its leader Kim Jong-il; Heads of the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo boycotted it; North Korea aired a verbal threat against the Chosun Ilbo as a paper deserving "destruction by explosion" for its critical coverage of the regime.
  • 2001: Owner-publishers of the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo were indicted and tried for tax evasion charges in the wake of massive tax audits of major media groups; the International Press Institute put South Korea on its IPI Watch List; various confidential draft documents designed to control the press were exposed. They were prepared by inner circles of the ruling power; "anti- Chosun " campaign staged by a coalition of activist groups against the paper's editorial stance.


Auh, Taik Sup. "Language Divide and Knowledge Gap in Cyberspace: Beyond Digital Divide." A paper presented at the Language Diversity in the Information Society colloquium, sponsored by the French Commission for the UNESCO, Paris, France, March 2001.

Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2001-2002: The Democracy Gap ("Country Report on South Korea"). New York: Freedom House, 2002.

Halvorsen, David E. "Confucianism Defies the Computer: The Conflict within the Korean Press." In Elite Media amidst Mass Culture: A Critical Look at Mass Communication in Korea, ed. Chie-woon Kim & Jae-won Lee, 215-271. Seoul: Nanam, 1994.

Kim, Chie-woon, and Jae-won Lee, eds. Elite Media amidst Mass Culture: A Critical Look at Mass Communication in Korea. Seoul: Nanam, 1994.

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Jae-won Lee

User Contributions:

I have learned a lot aboout South Korea's Media from this web page. Thank you.
i have learned a lot, too. thanks. but i think you need update the contents. there were various kinds of changes in media policy in Korea. so, please reflect the changes on your contents. :)
steve kim
Is there a way to obtain a list of emails to all of the print news media in South Korea?

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