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Part II: Governance in South Korea

Korean Media Bias and Government Intervention in Media, by Ian Howard
On April 18, 2008, the Korean government announced that imports of American beef, long feared because of concerns of mad cow disease, would resume, therefore allowing passage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. On April 29, an episode of PD Notebook, an investigative journalism program, aired, greatly exaggerating and misrepresenting the dangers of eating American beef. Combined with rumors spread through the Internet, it served as a catalyst, transforming the growing discontent with Lee’s policies into outright protests against the government. Reacting to evidence of media manipulation designed to incite anti-Lee sentiments, Lee’s administration took actions to reduce media bias, including replacing the heads of several media corporations with government appointees, implementing an Internet real-name system, and allowing cross-ownership of broadcast companies by newspapers and private firms. While there does exist strong evidence that Korean media is susceptible to bias and manipulation, Lee’s policies are likely to damage the gains Korean free speech has made in Korea’s democratization process.

“Korean Media Bias and Government Intervention in Media,” is an excerpt from Part II of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.


In South Korea, a liberal democracy, one might expect strong public disapproval to be addressed through the institutionalized political framework. However, as demonstrated by the Grand Canal Project and the Media Law Revision cases, opposition parties went outside the political framework to engage in dramatic measures of protest against the GNP, the ruling party. Examination of both cases shows that the main opposition party, the Democratic Party, played a marginalized, if not nonexistent, role in representing public opposition at the legislative level. Furthermore, strong public opposition had little impact on the GNP members’ behavior, as the members remained strictly loyal to their party interest in both cases. In such context, political opposition was carried out through advocacy outside the political framework, because these channels provided the highest probability of success. The GNP’s preponderance in the National Assembly gives rise to an ineffective political party system, wherein public interest is not well represented—an issue that will have to be addressed if democracy in Korea is to mature.

“Finding the Public Voice in Korea’s Political Party System,” is an excerpt from Part II of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.