Stealth erosion of South Korea’s media environment · Global Voices



The government is accused of employing tactics that create a chilling effect

President Yoon Seok-yeol and First Lady Kim Kun-hee standing in front of South Korea's official plane

President Yoon Seok-yeol and First Lady Kim Kun-hee bid farewell before leaving for the UK on September 18, 2022. Seoul Air Force Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. Photo by his JEON HAN from KOCIS Flickr page. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Terms).

You may have come across the metaphor of the boiled frog. The story suggests that a frog placed in a pot of slowly heated water is unaware of the impending danger and ends up being boiled alive. Although this has been debunked as more myth than scientific fact, the metaphor remains powerful.

South Korea is recognized as an economically, politically, and technologically established country. International indices usually reflect this, showing stable and consistent rankings without large fluctuations. However, this article aims to highlight the country’s recent setbacks in the media and free speech environment, a troubling undercurrent that is underreported in global analysis.

The current conservative government, which took office in May 2022, faces accusations of employing tactics that have a chilling effect on free speech. Chief among these charges is retaliation against journalists and media outlets that criticize President Yoon Seok-yeol, First Lady Kim Kun-hee, and his cabinet under the pretext of spreading fake news. The report includes instances in which opposition journalists were barred from press conferences and exposed to defamation and election interference investigations based on their reporting of alleged fraud by Mr. Yoon and Mr. Kim. In some cases, this has led to raids on journalists’ homes and offices.

This retaliatory approach was foreshadowed in January 2022, when a phone conversation during the presidential campaign was leaked showing Kim threatening to jail all journalists who opposed her husband if elected. .

Additionally, President Yoon has issued an unprecedented number of enforcement orders, more than any of his predecessors in the same term. In South Korea’s legislative framework, the Constitution is the supreme law, and laws passed by the National Assembly embody the values ​​of the Constitution, but administrative laws such as presidential orders are designed to enforce these laws. It is an administrative tool. Such legislation shall not conflict with any superior law and shall have jurisdiction over all administrative affairs. These laws often enabled Yun to bypass parliamentary approval requirements and appoint allies to powerful positions. The latest ordinance, enacted in October 2023, restricts gatherings and gatherings near the presidential palace.

Controversial government appointments include Lee Dong-kwan as the new director of the state broadcasting watchdog, the Broadcasting and Communications Commission (KCC), and Lee Dong-kwan as the new director of the government-funded state-run broadcaster, Korea Broadcasting Corporation (KBS). This includes the appointment of Park Min. Both appointees vowed to eradicate “ideological bias.” At the same time, the administration has stepped up its rhetoric against “fake news,” a move that has become even more pronounced ahead of parliamentary elections in April 2024.

The leader of the People’s Power Party, of which President Yoon is a member, criticized some liberal media outlets, claiming that their biased reporting undermines the country’s democracy and is tantamount to high treason, punishable by death. The government has sought to be the arbiter of truth and to control public opinion, particularly regarding responses to disasters, both natural and man-made. Notable incidents include a tragic stampede by a crowd in Itaewon, Seoul during a Halloween festival in 2022 that left at least 159 people dead and 196 injured; This included the inappropriate response to the flooding in Oseong and Yeocheon, which resulted in numerous casualties and injuries to Marines. Death of a corporal, respectively. The victim’s family has been vigorously pursuing accountability, but little has been achieved.

The government’s narrativization efforts extend to historical perspective. The Yun administration’s stance reflects an important shift away from traditional commemorative ceremonies. Along with the glorification of the first president, Syngman Rhee, who was known for his strict anti-communist policies, the recent scorn for Hong Beom-do, a prominent anti-colonial hero who fought against Japanese occupation in the 1920s, is a story. It shows the transition to sexuality. It aligns more closely with the interests of the United States and Japan. This rewriting of history not only marginalizes the legacy of resistance to Japanese occupation, but also appears to be a strategic rewriting of the country’s past in order to facilitate modern geopolitical alliances.

The Yun government, along with the People’s Power Party, has also drawn criticism for promoting misogyny and hate speech, and is said to have incorporated such rhetoric into its campaigning, social media engagement, and policymaking. ing. The recent rise in anti-feminist sentiment has led to women losing their jobs and even being physically assaulted. Meanwhile, President Yoon has caused controversy by proposing to abolish the Ministry of Women, Women and Family and reduce labor protections, especially for migrant workers. Additionally, the president and his wife have reportedly interacted with far-right YouTubers, offering them invitations to the presidential inauguration, sending them holiday gifts, and even appointing them to government positions.

Recalling the proverbial frog and the similar proverb in South Korea about not noticing the drizzle until you’re soaked, each of these political changes may not seem like an immediate threat on its own, and it’s clear that Nothing illegal or authoritarian. But their cumulative impact has raised concerns about the country’s democratic stability. With national elections just around the corner, the government’s crackdown on public dissent and media scrutiny will be an important test of the country’s commitment to democratic principles and civil liberties.

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