What is Media Control?
South Korea is a fairly new democratic country that was formed after the Korean war in the 1950s. Despite its extraordinary rise to become a democracy in contrast to its northern counterpart, South Korea still has democratic backsliding within its system through constant media hampering and censorship. Media control is the action of censoring or controlling the output and publication of certain media and its availability to the public. This action can be achieved in many ways, whether that is suing certain publications, or something more serious such as blacklisting or banning them outright. However, despite South Korea’s claims of a free press and freedom of speech and expression, President Yoon Suk-yeol bans MBC reporters from boarding the presidential plane that was departing for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and G20 summit. President Yoon claims that this was an act to “protect the Constitution” showing that media control, a method of executive aggrandizement, is being utilized in a seemingly legitimate way.
South Korea’s Past History of Media Control
South Korea has in the past utilized both subtle and obvious strategies in controlling the media. A political commentator Rhee explains how “attempts to control the press became noticeable in the Lee Myung-bak administration, which tried to find out reporting propensities of each media. During the Park Geun-Hye administration, it made a blacklist of liberal artists and journalists, and the Moon Jae-in administration also sued many journalists.” This is concerning because this seems to be an occurring action in almost every single administration regardless of party affiliation or set precedences. This in turn normalizes this action despite its apparent authoritative motive. However, in South Korea, there is no direct regulation in place that can enforce or regulate this behavior which allows for the executive to have free reign in their decisions regarding media control.
President Yoon Suk-yeol bans MBC
On November 9, 2022, President Yoon banned Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) from boarding the presidential plane that was departing for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and G20 summit. This is a blatant example of media control from President Yoon as he completely bans MBC, a popular left-leaning media outlet, from being able to report on a major international event. Yoon’s office said MBC was banned because of its “repeated distortion and biased reporting” on diplomatic issues. President Yoon later addresses the topic himself by stating how “[he] believe[s] it was an unavoidable measure taken to protect the Constitution as the president”. Yoon attempts to justify the censorship of a key opposition media outlet by stating it was an act “to protect the Constitution” despite his office’s initial remarks of stating how it was first banned because of it “biased reporting”.
MBC’s Past Relationship with President Yoon
President Yoon is a candidate from the People Power Party which is 1 of the 2 major political parties. The People Power Party is a conservative-leaning party that is apart from its left-leaning counterpart Together Democratic Party. MBC is a news outlet that tends to encompass a more left-leaning bias when reporting on political topics and has in the past always been determined to report on dissatisfactory actions from President Yoon.
One of the largest reports was about President Yoon’s ‘hot mic moment’ at the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference. In a video recording first released by MBC, Yoon appeared to remark while exiting the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, “If those [expletive] do not pass it in the [parliament], [Biden] will lose face.” President Yoon publicly stated how “untrue media reports undermined Korea’s alliance with the United States”. MBC being the first media outlet to release the video and the article was most likely the target for President Yoon’s remarks.
No Backlash, No Change
Despite the obvious authoritative motives these actions have on South Korea’s political system, there is still no direct action against these actions. Although the people are angry about this action, there is no judicial action. Unlike the US judicial system, it is much harder for an ordinary citizen to bring a case to the judicial branch, even harder for a case as high profile and politically charged as one that one would be regarding this incident. To add to the already hard nature of presenting a case to the courts, President Yoon was a former Prosecutor General, which is the highest prosecutor position in South Korea. This only makes his connections within the judicial system deeper and would make it virtually impossible to present a case that is unbeneficial for President Yoon.
Ultimately, regarding the case of media control, an action President Yoon states was utilized to “protect the Constitution” ultimately has instead made it only apparent to his predecessors that outright banning “biased” news outlets is allowed. This allows for the executive to single-handedly decide which news outlets he/she can ban with the justification of protecting the Constitution, which is President Yoon’s attempt at legitimizing this action. Although it is seen that South Korea’s judicial system will not participate in stopping this action, something needs to be done to finally bring an end to this long line of media control in the South Korean political system.