The South Korean Media and Newspapers – A Full Breakdown

The South Korean media is very difficult for global companies to break into. South Korean media and newspapers have 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. 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. 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. There has been a rise in independent media thanks to blogs, podcasts, and social media. More and more young people in Korea are voicing their opinions regarding politics, unemployment, and social welfare. 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 and 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 showing no signs of slowing down. 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.  

Most of these newspapers have been focused on growing their Google presence and social media channels.

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 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.

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

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 the 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.