South Korea Government and Media
World Press Freedom Rank: South Korea 42/180
In 2020 Reporters Without Borders ranked South Korea 42/180 in their World Press Freedom Index, describing the election of new President Moon Jae-in, a human rights activist and former political prisoner, as “a breath of fresh air after a bad decade”. They state “The system of appointing managers at the public broadcasters needs to be revised in order to guarantee their independence.” They further add that defamation must be decriminalized since it is a punishable offense in South Korea.
In South Korea, The National Security Law was introduced in 1948 to respond to threats from communist North Korea, however, a University of Kentucky College of Law article states this law “has long been used by the government to silence opposition in South Korea.” For instance, in 2018 Uijeongbu District Court, sentenced a 57-year-old man to two years of probation due to praising North Korea in online media. He was accused of “posting 51 transferable expressions of praise for North Korea on certain Internet sites between 2011 and 2016.” Another issue is the South Korean libel laws, which the US Department of state points out “The government and individual public figures used libel and slander laws, which broadly define and criminalize defamation, to restrict public discussion and harass, intimidate, or censor private and media expression.”
Government Influence on Media: Public service broadcasting in Korea is directly and indirectly controlled by the State. The largest public broadcasting networks are the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) which is financed from license fees and advertising, and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which is funded just through advertising. Their board members are “all directly or indirectly appointed by the Korean president at the recommendation of the National Assembly.”
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is a government agency responsible for regulating broadcasting and communications services, Its Chairman and one commissioner are directly appointed by the President with the remaining commissioners nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the President. In broadcasting, all advertising must be approved by the state-run Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (KOBACO).
There are also family-owned conglomerates, which are called chaebol in South Korea. SBS is a commercial broadcaster owned by Yoon Se-young who resigned in 2017 “amid allegations of interference in news coverage”. The press is mostly privately owned by family-owned corporations, such as the Bang Family, owner of Chosun Ilbo (Ilbo means newspaper), the Kim Family, owner of Dong-A Ilbo, the Chang family, owner of Hankook, and JoongAng Ilbo owned by Samsung Group (Lee family). There is also the state-owned Yonhap News Agency, for more information on its structure see here. In conclusion, the South Korean Government has a monopoly on public broadcasting and directly and indirectly controls print media.