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South Korea

South Korea - World Report 2009

47 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 99,274 sq. km.
-  Population: 49,232,844
-  Language: Korean
-  Head of state: Lee Myung-bak, since February 2008

The conservative government has stepped up pressure on some TV channels that are seen as over critical and the authorities have also tightened control of the Internet, going so far as to arrest Internet users for their posts, even though the country is in the forefront of Internet access. While the opposition has condemned it as a return to the authoritarianism of the 1980s, it is more a case of government interventionism in media so as to limit criticism of its actions.

Police and the prosecutor’s office no longer hesitate to arrest journalists because of their reports. The prosecutor’s office harassed a team from public MBC television whose report on risks from imported Amrican beef gave rise to major anti-government protests, holding one reporter for two days and making several attempts to search its premises.

Journalists and media workers’ unions reacted robustly in the face of “interventions” compromising their editorial independence. One particularly tough dispute took place at YTN television whose president was challenged for being close to the head of state. As a result four journalists were arrested and 20 others were sanctioned while a satirical news programme was taken off air.

South Korea is despite all this one of the very few Asian countries where there is real news pluralism. Although President Lee Myung-bak can rely on the support of the country’s three leading dailies which are conservative in outlook, there are also independent and pro-opposition media and large numbers of online publications.

South Korea, a country at the cutting edge of new technology and which has very active “Netizens” (Citizen Internet users), has been placed on Reporters Without Borders’ list of ‘countries under surveillance’. The government has in fact put in place the means to scrutinise online news content. Scores of Internet users, including the renowned blogger Minerva, have been arrested following complaints from the government or by individuals. Minerva, under his real name of Park Dae-sung, has been in prison since 7 January 2009, on the grounds that he affected “foreign exchange markets” and the “nation’s credibility” through his posts on the financial crisis in a discussion forum.

Under the national security law that bans all contact with North Korea, it is still impossible to view Pyongyang media and to publish any comments favourable to the Kim Jong-il regime.

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