Korea: Battles between Netizens and Newspapers

It started from complaints and small protests against the US-Korea Beef Trade. Koreans were upset due to the process of the negotiation of the trade between the US and Korea and due to unconditional support from major media for the current government. Candlelight vigils were expected to disappear after several days, but they have continued more than 40 days and more people with their families participate every night.

And recently, major conservative newspapers, ‘Cho-Joong-Dong’ – an abbreviation of the names of the three biggest Korean newspapers – have been seriously attacked by netizens. Netizens announce a battle with newspapers.

Campaigns not to subscribe Cho-Joong-Dong, not to go to restaurants that subscribe to Cho-Joong-Dong, not to watch KBS—the national broadcaster— to subscribe to other progressive newspapers, to leave other newspapers in subways for other commuters, to praise companies that give advertisements to other newspapers, to protest companies that put advertisements in Cho-Joong-Dong, and not to purchase products of those companies, are spread by the Internet. Netizens actively share their ideas on how to promote their campaigns.

While major media hasnn’t treat this movement seriously, the campaign in several days has prompted a 30 percent decrease in advertisement requests in the Chosun Newspaper. Netizens’ activities even led several companies to decide to cancel their advertisements to Cho-Joong-Dong newspapers and to put public apologies about their advertisements on their websites.

조선일보와 중앙일보, 동아일보의 광고기업들이 네티즌 항의에 따라 광고 철회를 알리는 내용이다.

“…네티즌의 비판과 우려는 곧 우리 국민이 르까프를 아직도 애정이 담긴 시선으로 지켜보고 있다는 것으로 생각하고 겸허히 받아들이며, 회사영업에 다소 지장이 초래되더라고 국민정서를 고려하여 지적하신 언론매체 광고는 자제하기로 결정하였으며 이후 광고에 대해서는 신중을 기하도록 하겠습니다.” – 르까프(http://www.lecaf.co.kr/)

“금일 주요 5대 일간지에 광고가 동시에 나가지 못해 고객님들의 정서에 부응해 드리지 못했던 점을 죄송스럽게 생각하며…” – 신선설농탕(http://www.sinsunfood.co.kr/)

“신문광고로 고객님들께 심려를 끼쳐드려 죄송합니다. (중략) 고객님들의 질책대로 금일 이후 광고에는 신중을 기하겠으며…” – 농협목우촌(http://www.moguchon.co.kr/)

Some companies that put advertisements in Chosun, Joongang, and Dong-a newspapers announced that they will withdraw their advertisements due to netizens’ protests.

“…We consider that netizens’ criticisms and concerns toward Lecaf mean that people are still concerned about us with affection. Even though it might affect our business, we consider people’s sentiment and decide to restrain ourselves to put advertisements to media that is laid a finger on. Afterwards, we will be more careful about placing advertisements.” – Lecaf

“We apologize not to follow customers’ sentiments and to put advertisements in five daily newspapers at the same time…” –Shinsun Food.

“…We apologize for causing worries to customers by newspaper advertisements[…] Following customers’ rebuke, we will be more careful of putting advertisements…” Nonghyup Moguchon.

Why are netizens upset with Cho-Joong-Dong?

[…]국민과 함께 하지 않는 대통령과 정치인들, 그리고 언론들은 결국 심판받을 수 밖에 없는 건 당연한 이치다. 조.중.동 등 한나라당 기관지로 치부되는 언론들이 쓰레기 취급을 받고 있다. 그건 이명박정부와 한나라당의 시녀노릇을 하고 있다는 이유 때문이다. 1년전만 하더라도 조.중.동은 노무현정부의 한미FTA강행과 소고기 수입문제에 대해 검역주권을 강조하고 요구했던 논조의 기사들을 게재했으나, 이명박정부로 권력이 바뀌자, 360도 기사내용이 바뀐 것이다. 이것은 결국 자신들의 권력에 아부하는 조.중.동이라는 언론들의 기회주의성과 이중성을 적나라하게 드러낸 것이다. 언론이란 국민과 민족을 대변하는 정론직필이 아니면 이미 그 존재가치가 없는 쓰레기에 불과하며 생명이 끝난 것이다. 또한 인터넷 시대에 있어 권력의 실체는 더 이상 언론들이 아니라, 정보를 공유하여 정확하고 객관적인 진실을 알아내고 주장하고 행동하는 네티즌들이 권력이다. 따라서 언론들이 더욱 국민과 민족을 대변하는 진실보도와 공정보도를 하지 않으면 대중은 외면한다는 의미가 된다[…]

[…] It is the principle that the president, politicians, and media that are not with the peoples should be judged. Media including Cho-Joong-Dong which is regarded as the bulletin is treated as trash because they work as servants for the Lee Government and the Grand National Party. Even one year ago, Cho-Joong-Dong continued to put articles that we should demand the right of quarantine regarding importing beef and FTA between the US and Korea. Once the authority goes to the Lee Government, their attitude completely changes. It proves that their opportunism and dualism to flatter themselves to the powerful. If media can’t represent the people and write correctly, it doesn’t have life anymore and is just trash. In addition, in the period of the Internet, the entity of the authority is not media anymore, but netizens who share information, track objective truth, and insist. Therefore, if media doesn’t represent the people well and doesn’t show impartial reports, the masses will turn away[…]

A netizen’s simple comment became popular.

미래의 한국사 시험문제:2008년 시민혁명으로 폐간된 신문은? 정답: 조중동.[…]

A question of Korean history examination in the future: What newspapers ceased to be published due to the civil revolution of 2008? Answer: Cho-Joong-Dong.[…]

An interesting thing to be observed is how netizens utilize technology well. They give light to candlelight vigils and physical conflicts between demonstrators and policemen on the popular Internet channel, Afreeca (Korean Youtube), which was the territory of broadcasting. Their mobile phones and gadgets are used for sharing visual experiences with non-participants and those graphics are transferred to the Internet instantly.

Here is a netizen’s response.

새벽까지 인터넷 생방송을 지켜 보다가 저도 연일 이런 생활이 계속 되는 통에 피곤하다는 이름으로 ,,가만히 앉아서 피곤하다고..그냥 잠이 들고 말았네요.잠이 편하지 않습디다..꿈도 뒤숭숭하고..무언지 모를 압박감에 깊은 잠에 빠지지도 못하고..어젯밤 많은 분들이수건이며 쵸코파이며 따듯한 옷, 물이 필요하다고 하는데도 전 아무 것도 못하고 그냥 멍하니 화면만 바라 보다…그러다 잠 잔다가ㅗ무식한 돼지처럼 잠 자겠다고 그냥 잠이 들었네요……….. 정말 미안합니다. 미안합니다……..죄송합니다………고작 평범한 아줌마가 할 수 잇는 일들을 찾느라 이리 저리 조중동에 광고하는 회사이름 찾아 전화 돌리고…………홈페이지 찾아가 서명하고 글 쓰고..등등의 일련의 일들도 님들의 애씀 앞에선 그저 휴지보다 못한 일들이 되고 맙니다[…]

I watched the internet live broadcast until dawn and fell asleep under the pretext of being tired. It was not a comfortable sleep. My dream was not noisy due to unknown suppression. Even though many people said they need more towels, choco pie, warm cloths, and water, I dazedly looked at the screen and fell asleep like an ignorant pig. I’m really sorry, sorry… What a middle aged ordinary woman can do is to call companies that put advertisements to Cho-Joong-Dong… leaving my opinions on their websites… Compared to what you guys do, mine is nothing[….]

On the other hand, the Fair Trade Commission announced that they will reconsider releasing a regulation (Shinmoon Goshi) that allows newspaper companies to give benefits and gifts to their customers even though it was prohibited for more active media. Major newspapers that have capital such as Cho-Joong-Dong can survive, while small capital newspaper companies have a hard time to compete.

Lee Myung Bak OUT from a candlelight vigil

It seems that it’s not a temporary battle.


  • R. Elgin

    Despite any bias in the three big papers, I would still describe this protest as an attempt to bypass or usurp the more socially responsible forms of media communication in South Korea for the sake of political gain rather than a legitimate grievance against an unjust government.

    I would also add that South Korea and North Korea really are still at war and this is more so a part of that extended campaign — sad to observe.

  • D. Yoon

    R. Elgin, what do you mean, this is a part of an extended cmpaign between the two Koreas? How are civilian protests against a trade policy at all related to political tensions with their neighbors?

  • R. Elgin

    “D. Yoon”, based upon what I am seeing, this trade issue is more like a trojan horse for ideological issues that lie between the so-called conservatives and leftists in South Korea. The trade issues you mention are more a political game, mining the rich vein of public distrust in government and the fear of a disease that has yet been observed in America or Korea.

    This ideological difference does have its roots in the division between the north and south, though people and scenarios have changed over time. Especially now, with both conservatives and leftists protesting at the same time, in front of city hall, the zeitgeist is resembling Korea in the late forties more and more in terms of having a radically divided populace.

    The three big papers do reflect a bias which has been labeled as conservative for more than a few reasons however, the current attack upon them is more an ongoing war of influence over opposing ideologies. Information and its dissemination is a very important thing since it shapes pubic sentiment; sentiment from which a democratic leader must take their cues from. As can be demonstrated in China, the control of information is synonymous to the control of a nation’s people and helps maintain a sense of legitimacy.

    During Roh’s tenure, the so called left in South Korea have attempted to use the newer forms of media and alternatives to the three main papers to influence the public since the big three papers were more often conservative in bias. The election of Roh and the text messaging and use of the internet actually had a profound effect upon the outcome, leading to Roh’s victory. As per Kim Shin Dong, an associate professor of communication at Hallym University, Korea, and Director for the iCat Institute:

    Roh’s opponent, Lee Hoe-chang, had long enjoyed solid support from most of the conservative newspapers that dominate the nation’s media. However, Nosamo’s active campaign successfully attracted media attention and turned public support towards Roh Moo-hyun.

    Alternative information channels on the web, such as Ohmynews and Pressian, proved to be an effective counter balance to mainstream journalism.

    On polling day, Nosamo members and young supporters of Roh launched an extensive mobile phone campaign encouraging their friends to come out and cast votes. It was widely accepted, after the election, that Roh’s victory owed much to the use of new media.

    To summarize and cut this short, I still see this attack on the big three as also being a part of the ongoing struggle that many South Koreans try to forget but is still out there.

  • R. Elgin

    As an addition to the above, I could also add as an example of what has been going on in South Korea, regarding the political use of new media, we also witnessed the “ilshimhoe” DLP spy-ring that was caught during Roh’s tenure. Per the Chosun Ilbo:

    Chang Min-ho, the head of the spy ring dubbed Il-shim-huway, is not simply another overseas Korean suspected of being a spy. Since entering the country in 1993 immediately after joining North Korea’s Workers’ Party, Chang formed lines of personal contact while working as a department manager at what is now the Korea IT Industry Promotion Agency under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He then cemented his foothold as a successful businessman in the IT industry serving, among others, as president of Game TV. He was so firmly established that he was among the list of some 300 people the ruling camp under the Kim Dae-jung administration considered for recruitment ahead of the 2000 presidential election. Last year, he became the CEO of a firm in which the second largest shareholder of a major terrestrial broadcaster invested

    During this period, there was also a push from Roh’s government and certain interested parties to create a new broadcast media committee, one that the Korean Broadcasting Commission felt could “damage the independence of broadcasting”. This “super committee was to incorporate the newer forms of media such as DMB broadcasting with other media. The head of this committee is selected by the president. Needless to say, since LMB was elected, the UDP has been highly critical of his nominee for the head of this committee, thus the leftists missed the chance to use this new tool.

    Considering the above, there is very much an interest in dominating new media by the left and now, more of an attempt to discredit the big three papers as a source of legitimate news in this war of information. Considering the ties of these papers with chaebol (big money) and the upcoming financially difficult times that I foresee, one consequence may be that these papers may find their role as legitimate news sources further eroded by events — maybe.

    P.S. I’m sorry if this is a bit sloppy but I hope it explains a bit more of my observations.

  • Sonagi

    If one doesn’t like a particular media organization’s coverage, there is a very easy solution: don’t read it. Media organizations are not charities but profit-oriented businesses. If the numbers of readers and viewers go down, so do advertising revenues. Cho-Joong-Dong remain in business because people continue to read them in print and online.

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