South Korean Authorities Discredit Dissenting Voices as ‘Not-Real’ News

Who gets to decide what is real news or not? It seems the South Korean government thinks they have enough authority to do so. 

The country's media regulation authorities have discredited several news programs, calling them “not real news”. Among many programs that found themselves a target were Newstapa, an investigative news site which made groundbreaking revelations in 2013; Gobal News, a young news site runs by an independent citizen-funded station, just like Newstapa; and several news shows aired by the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) radio.  

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) released its report on the media landscape on December 30 and disqualified some as “non-real news” (or “not legit” news) and vowed [ko] to send warnings to those broadcasters in order to push them to make major adjustments in their formats. The government's explanation was that it is illegal for special-purpose stations (i.e. traffic or religion channels) to adopt the form of “news, news anchors, and journalists” and for local channels (which air in a specific province or city) to report on general, state-level social issues – in other words, they can't use the format of news when covering any subjects that are deemed outside of their area of coverage.

Journalists and media workers lambasted the decision, commenting [ko] that the current journalism environment has turned as hostile as that of the 1980s when notorious military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally cracked down on any forms of dissent and stifled journalism.

A media industry veteran and currently investigative reporter at Newstapa, Choi Kyung-young (@kyung0), wrote [ko] as below. Newstapa (English name: Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) made stunning feats of journalism last year by disclosing critical facts about the election manipulation scandal and elite tax haven scheme, but was discredited by authorities as “not real news”. 

[…] 어디서 유사언론학을 들었는지 모르겠으나 “정부가 무엇이 보도인지를 규정하면 그 나라에는 보도는 사라지고 선전만 남게된다”

[…] I dont know where they learnt about the definition on “non-legit news”, but bear in mind that once the government gets to decide what is news or not, news reports in that nation disappears and only propaganda is left. 

CBS (Christian Broadcasting System, not related to the US media company of the same name) is a non-profit organization that has a history of being the first independent radio station in the country. Although it has a Christian background, some of CBS's news programs have been praised for unbiased reports.

One of the hosts for CBS's news program, Kim Eung-gyo, wrote that the only comparable crackdown on media to this current one is the 1980's shutdown when the military regime forced CBS to shutter by merging them and other independent broadcasters with state-run TV. The station reopened seven years later:

As suspected, they provoked CBS. They branded these programs – CBS News, Jeong Kwan-yong's Current Issues, Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show – “not real news” done without proper permission. It seems like the ghost of [military dictator] Chun Doo-hwan – who halted CBS which has aired news since 1954 – has returned to this era.

Media critic Yoo Chang-seon (‏@changseon) criticized [ko] authorities’ guidelines as outdated:

방송통신위원회의 이러한 발상, 참 낡고 낡았다 하는 생각이 듭니다. 종교채널이든 경제채널이든 교통채널이든, 그 방송을 듣고 보는 사람들 모두 세상 돌아가는 일을 알아야 합니다. 어느 분야 하나 서로 연결되지 않는 것이 없는 세상입니다[…]

Korea Communications Commission's decision reveals that their thinking cannot be more outdated. Whether it is a religious channel, an economic channel or a traffic channel, the audience should be able get information on what is happening now in the world by watching those channels. Moreover, everything, every industry are closely connected with each other[…]

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Gobal news and Newstapa both belong to RTV, [ko] an independent TV station that heavily depends on citizen contributions and donations. RTV tweeted as below right after the news about “not-real news” broke. Gobal news revealed [ko] that while the move was made against them, the government provides generous benefits to TV stations run by major newspapers who strongly support the government and its policies:

This signals the start of muzzling media critical of the government. It means that they will allow people to watch only the network TVs and those TV stations run by conservative newspaper companies [referring to Chosun, Joonang and Donga Newspaper]

RTV's journalists said that they will resist against [ko] authorities’ guidelines, and many citizens expressed the same. Pyo Chang-won, a former professor at the National Police University and now influential talk show host, tweeted as below. 

CBS radio and its program “Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show” have played the role of real journalism program by delivering facts and sharp analyses to audiences. I fully support and want to encourage them, and every fiber of my body will be resisting against the KCC's anachronistic oppression of the media – which would be more befitting of a dictatorial era. Cheer up. 


  • Paul Kerry

    The title here suggests that the government objects to the quality of news provided. But rather than that it wasn’t real news, wasn’t the problem that it _is_ real news, and these outlets aren’t licensed to distribute it.
    Isn’t the government’s explanation that special purpose channels are not allowed to broadcast news basically true? If so, surely it’s the law itself that is the problem, rather than the KCC’s decision to enforce it.

    • Eric0912

      Timing? Sounds like a fair point though.

      • Paul Kerry

        The timing is bad, but then, there’s never a good time to do something like this.

        • Eric0912

          Then maybe they just shouldn’t. Having a free press is more important than issuing proper licenses.

    • I understand Licence for ‘Television News’ is required permission from KCC.
      However, radio stations are different.
      I never heard CBS, BBS, PBC, WBS (religions), TBS (traffic) Radio do not have news licence. They have broadcasted ‘News’ item since they launched.
      Law is wrong but KCC’s administration is poor.

      • Even though, I agree the decision for TV stations were right.
        Unfortunately, Some of these stations provides good news bulletin. (RTV, Business channels) …
        Regulation is hard to catch the change of society.

  • ....................

    KCC’s views r biased in favor of govt with many pro-Park personnel who ve recently been wielding power against news agencies reporting objective issues so I think it must be focused on ‘The freedom of Press’ than anything else especially in the country not having ‘freedom of media’

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