The South Korean media is very difficult for global companies to break into. South Korean media and newspapers have had a bad reputation for being manipulated by the Korean government. Freedom of speech is only partly true in South Korea. Many Koreans feel that many major publications are run by government implants that control the content released. Many brave Korean journalists have stood up to the role the government plays in manipulating the news. These journalists have sometimes gone to jail or have lost their jobs. However, with the rise of social media, blogs, and independent media, the power of these major publications is decreasing. For global companies looking to enter Korea, it is important to have a basic understanding of South Korean media and how they function.

Korean Chaebols and their role in the Korean Media

Samsung PressIt is not just the Korean government that influences the news in Korea. Korean chaebols have a lot of power within Korea and the Korean government. This is why any negative press regarding Chaebols like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc. are rare. These Chaebols spend millions of dollars advertising for these major Korean newspapers. Therefore there is a huge conflict of interest there. Any criticism of these major Korean companies needs to be 100% accurate because of the strict defamation laws in South Korea. Therefore today in Korea there is a general lack of trust in the mainstream Korean media among Korean citizens. 3/4 Korean citizens feel that either the Korean government or major corporations influence these major news sites.

The Rise of Independent Media in South Korea

There is a movement, especially with young Koreans to look elsewhere for their news. Korean citizens are no longer reading newspapers or watching the news on TV. Most now get their news from search engines like Google or Naver, Youtube, and social media. In addition, there has been a rise in independent media thanks to blogs, podcasts, and media platforms. More and more young people in Korea are voicing their opinions regarding politics, unemployment, and social welfare.

For example, UBI in Korea is a hot topic that is not covered by the mainstream media in Korea but rather smaller independent news sites. K-pop stars today openly talk about politics which would have been unheard of a decade ago. Moon Jae-in got elected thanks to these independent news channels. The scandal of President Park Geun-Hye exploited on these independent news channels was a major reason why the Saenuri Party lost its political power.  

Korean TV Advertising is Dying

As more and more young Koreans stop watching TV, the sales of TV advertising has fallen greatly. Advertising revenue for many Korean TV stations is down more than 50% since 2006. Furthermore, these trends are likely to continue as we move towards a more digital age. Most of the terrestrial broadcasting corporations in Korea will soon go bankrupt. Now the dominant source of news for the new generation is in search engines, social media, and YouTube. Therefore it is vital for Korean news media to have a strong presence on not only Naver but Google as well. In addition to strong social media channels.

There are five major national newspapers in South Korea.  

The five major newspapers in South Korea are Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Donga Ilbo, Hankyoreh, and Kyunghyang Shinmum. As the world moves to the digital age many of these sites have created an English channel, social media pages, and some even have their own YouTube Channel. In addition, most of these newspapers have been focused on growing their Google presence and social media channels. However, they still have a long way to go. Many have their own English content section but a vast majority of their content is in Korean.

5 Major Newspapers in South Korea

Chosun Ilbo – Along with Jonngang Iblo and Donga Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo is one of the top three newspapers in Korea. They have a daily circulation of around 2 million. Their subsidiary Digital Chosun runs Chosun.com which publishes content in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese.

Joongang Ilbo – The Joongang Ilbo has an English edition called Korea JoongAng Daily and they are partnered with the International New York Times. The Korea JoongAng Daily is the major English-language newspaper in South Korea. Many of their editorials are up on Newsweek and Forbes.

Donga Ilbo – This is one of the oldest newspapers in Korea. The company started in 1920 and has a circulation of over 1.2 million. Their parent company is Dong-A Media Group which has 11 affiliates that cover many industries such as entertainment, sports, education, and politics. They have also partnered with The New York Times as well as the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun and China’s The People’s Daily.

Hankyoreh – Hankyoreh is a fairly new newspaper compared to the first three, they were founded in 1988 and was the alternative to the main press in Korea. Many journalists who joined Hankyoreh felt that the top three newspaper was too influenced by the Korean government. Currently, it is the most trusted news organization by the Korean press.

Kyunghyang Shinmum – Kyunghyang Shinmun has an old history but they really became a player in the Korean media space in 1998. This was when the newspaper became an independent newspaper pretty much run by the employees. There are close to 250 journalists and has over 1.3 million daily visitors to its website. They also have a monthly lifestyle magazine for women called The Lady Kyunghyang.

English-based South Korean Media

The Korea Herald – The Korea Herald is the top English-based media in South Korea. They cover Korea’s political scene, business, sports, lifestyle, K-pop news, and entertainment. They have their own tech section called The Investor which covers not only the top companies in Korea but also the Korean startup Ecosystem. Therefore The Korea Herald is a good source for news related to Korea in English. Most of their readers are from outside of South Korea.

The Korea Times – The Korea Times is very similar to The Korea Herald. The give the global audience a window into Korea by providing content in English. They have in-depth stores about Korea’s past, present, and further issues. They not only offer news about South Korea but also international news related to politics and business. It is the oldest independent English-language daily in Korea. They have served as Korea’s bridge to the world for over 70 years. The Korea Times covers a wide range of topics from politics, economy, culture, and sports. They also have a forum where readers get a chance to share their views on the important issues in South Korea.

Yonhap News Agency – Yonhap News is South Korea’s news hub for the global audience. They play a central role in the South Korean press by delivering news to its customers as well as newspapers, broadcasters, government agencies, business, and internet portals on a real-time basis. Most news media get the latest breaking news or press releases from the Government from Yonhap News Agency. They distribute content to over 900 client companies across South Korea. In addition, they distribute content to 83 news agencies in over 70 countries.

South Korean Media – TV & Radio

In South Korea, many people still listen to the radio as they commute and everyone owns at least one television in their home. When it comes to news, there are only three key players in this space in Korea. The top 3 TV news networks are KBS (Korean Broadcasting System), MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation), and SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System). in addition, to these top 3 major networks, there is a fourth network called EBS (Educational Broadcasting System) which focuses on instructional programming.

KBS – KBS started TV broadcasting back in 1961. However, they first aired radio signals back in 1927. They are now a public service broadcasting service and serves South Korea as a source of news.

MBC – MBC is a public broadcasting corporation. It was established in 1961 and has been forming international cooperation and partnerships with broadcasting companies from around the world. MBC produces programs that inform and entertain the Korean audience.

SBS – SBS is a national South Korean television and radio network company, owned by the Taeyoung Chaebol. They provide content related to K-dramas, sports, news, and variety programs.

President Moon Jae In Looking Promises to Protect Freedom of Speech

The South Korean media and newspapers have improved a lot in regards to freedom of the press. Mainly due to President Park’s scandal, the major news sites are more willing to be critical of the Korean government and Korean conglomerates. However, there is still room to grow. The Korean government still plays a role in what these major papers cover. When President Moon met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, they decided who could and could not cover the summit.

The rise of fake news is also becoming a problem in South Korea. They are doing their best to crack down on fake news but they also don’t want to show the public how much of a role they are playing the news. The rise of social media, blogs, and news sites make it almost impossible to stop fake news from spreading. The only want would be if the Korean government regulates all forms of media. However thankfully this step is not close to happening. President Moon has promised that he will do his best to protect the freedom of speech of the media. A monument symbolizing media freedom was built in Seoul in 2019.

The Future of South Korean Media

Currently, the Korean government guarantees freedom of speech, press, and assembly for all Koreans according to their constitution. However, some forms of speech can be punished. This includes the support for North Korea and the support or criticism of a particular candidate or party in South Korea a few months before elections.

The hope is that the South Korean media will not bow down to the Korean government. They need to focus on the facts and separate from political interests that can lead to corruption. In addition, Korea needs to embrace freedom of speech even if the topics are controversial. The Korean media should not be teaching their citizens but just laying out the facts so that the public can come to their own conclusions. In order to do this effectively, the Korean media needs support from the government. This is where it could get tricky. Support but not influence. This balance will be tough but as more and more media companies go under, the power will converge to only a handful of power media players which is never a good thing.