07 October 2008

Even more media evolution

The Go tournaments still go on, but I feel more like blogging than watching the matches. It's still before noon on October 8th.

I just posted about the evolution of television media in South Korea, and now want to talk about the common newspapers that I often see adorning the streetside kiosks.

First, it bears remembering that the vast majority of newspapers here are conservative. It was illegal to operate a liberal media outlet until 1987 anyway, and even now, liberals (who are overwhelmingly young) prefer the Internet and other forms of newer media. Conservatives are older, and would rather read their news in print. The ideological split along age lines is much more severe here than back in the US, where aging hippie liberals and Young Republicans are common; while their counterparts do exist in South Korea, they are very few and far in between.

When the Japanese first came to Korea in 1910, they banned all local media, but in the wake of the 1919 pro-independence movement, relaxed their grip and allowed local Korean-language media. Chosun Ilbo (朝鮮日報) was thus founded in 1920, and remains the paper with the longest history in South Korea. It is the most respected and the most quoted newspaper, and now operates an online portal at chosun.com. It is also the most conservative; it was extremely critical of the agendas of the two previous leftist Presidents, Nobelaureate Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, and is very supportive of not only the Lee Myung-bak presidency, but also the W Administration and the McCain-Palin ticket in the US, as well as the rise of the Sarkozy presidency in France. This is the newspaper that I have a subscription to at my apartment back in Seoul, though I only skim the headlines - if I can even stand to do so.

Another newspaper with a long, glorious history is Dong-A Ilbo (東亞日報), founded shortly after Chosun Ilbo. Until 1987, it was considered the most liberal newspaper available, though it is still moderate to center-right. It is distinguished by its nationalistic bent, especially during the Japanese era. When Adolf Hitler hosted the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Japan sent a delegation, which included Korean marathoner Sohn Kee-chung, who ended up winning the gold. Dong-A Ilbo's report of that victory blotted out the Japanese flag from Sohn's uniform, in a show of nationalism; the Japanese soon banned the paper. A few years later, as World War II started, Japan banned Chosun Ilbo and all other Korean papers as well, as they intended to eradicate all traces of Korean culture and assimilate the Koreans into the Japanese society (though as inferiors).

Since the defeat of Japan in 1945 and the resumption of the two papers just mentioned, two other center-right papers have been prominent on the scene as well. The older of the two is Joongang Ilbo (中央日報), a longtime subsidiary of the Samsung neoliberal empire but now divested. The newer of the two, which started publishing only after the Korean War, is Hankook Ilbo (韓國日報, though its title has always been written in Korean script, as 한국일보). These newer papers are also notable for publishing many overseas, localized editions to serve the Korean diaspora abroad, particularly in North America but also in Brazil and Europe. Joongang Ilbo's overseas editions are known as the Korea Daily, while Hankook Ilbo's overseas editions are known as the Korea Times.

The four above papers have long been the mainstay of the South Korean newspaper scene, the most quoted, and the most respected. However, a number of other newspapers also publish nationally, such as Gyeonghyang Shinmun (경향신문), Munhwa Ilbo (문화일보), and Segye Ilbo (世界日報). Segye Ilbo is the mouthpiece of the Unification Church, and has a low level of circulation, though it's nevertheless cited quite a bit; that makes it similar to its American sister paper, the Washington Times, though the Washington Times' role as the mouthpiece of the conservative movement is filled here in South Korea by the Chosun Ilbo. Munhwa Ilbo is most noteworthy for its series of homophobic editorials that drew the ire of the local LGBT community and overseas human rights organizations.

One national paper that deserves special attention is the Daily Hankyoreh (한겨레신문). It was the first liberal newspaper founded in South Korea, remains one of the few in existence, and is fairly well respected and cited. Before the Daily Hankyoreh, South Korean newspapers resembled their Japanese counterparts, being written vertically and using lots of Chinese characters, and only the elite could fully understand the articles. The Daily Hankyoreh, in a show of liberal nationalism, has done away with that altogether, adopting a more modern horizontal writing, and being written exclusively in Korean alphabet, allowing the masses to be able to read it. Chinese characters may be used, but only for disambiguation purposes, and always accompanied by pronunciation in Korean alphabet. The Daily Hankyoreh simply doesn't have the huge circulation numbers of its conservative competitors, but its impact has been made; today, every newspaper has adopted the Daily Hankyoreh's conventions of horizontal writing and Korean alphabet only. All newspapers, except the arch-conservative Chosun Ilbo, have also changed their titles to the Korean script.

The Daily Hankyoreh, like the Joongang Ilbo and the Hankook Ilbo, tried its hand at a US edition. But it was too leftist for the tastes of the reactionary Korean-Americans, and the effort folded after just over a year. More impartial observers consider the Daily Hankyoreh to be a center-left paper, however.

A number of local/regional papers, such as Seoul Shinmun (서울신문) and Busan Ilbo (부산일보), also exist. Various weekly tabloids round out the South Korean newspaper selection, though the tabloids, unlike their Western counterparts, tend to dwell on the lives of prominent politicians. (The tabloids are also among the few acceptable places to find and read kinky erotica, in the format of comics, stories, or pictorials.) Due to the short history and the general lack of liberal print media in South Korea, it is not possible to find something that resembles the Village Voice, the LA Weekly, or something of that nature; I'd love to get my hands on such an "alternative weekly" for the ins and outs of Seoul's culture.

For those who can't read Korean (or would rather get their news in English anyway), there are two South Korean newspapers written in English. The more popular of the two is the Korea Times, published by Hankook Ilbo. The English-language Korea Times in South Korea will not be confused with the Korea Times written in Korean for the overseas Korean communities (also by Hankook Ilbo), as those overseas papers are locally printed and circulated, and never sent back to South Korea. The alternative is the Korea Herald, published by Chosun Ilbo.