Forum – March 22, 2019

Victoria Vardanega

Continuities and Ruptures: Press, Government, and Society in Modern Korea

South Korea is an OECD nation with a functional democracy and global influence. Despite these significant qualities, South Korea has a 2019 Freedom House rating of 83 with a partially free press and restricted means of political expression. This conflicting issue of South Korea as a democracy with a restricted press begs the question of how such a disconnect came to be. This question can be answered by studying the complex relationship between South Korea’s press, government, and society.

This research serves to explore the greater context of these relationships by conducting a detailed analysis of the development of South Korea’s online press in the 21st century. By examining the degree of relationship changes as well as transforming motivations, I will shed light onto the important historical and economic background from which South Korea’s press has developed. By doing so, I will illuminate how the current state of the Korean press is entangled in economic and political institutions. I apply this contextual analysis to the media operations of the present with the usage of data analysis to study the existence of media bias in articles surrounding the 2014 Sewol Tragedy and the 2018 North-South Korean summit. By looking at the modern reporting of these two important events under two different political administrations, we can better understand how the relationship of press, government, and society has transformed and come to affect reporting and information dissemination today. This research helps to demystify Korean press’s modern operational practices, contributing to the growing literature regarding the politicization of the press and the proliferation of bias in media.

Victoria Vardanega is a native Californian who graduated from Pomona College with a double
major in Asian Studies and Economics. She developed her interest in the Korean peninsula through experiences that include receiving the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in Korean in 2015, and studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul. This passion for Korean Studies culminated in a college thesis on how the rapid economic growth of South Korea during the latter half of the twentieth century distorted the historical narratives of the period. Following the Fulbright, she plans to go on to pursue graduate school in international affairs in the DC area.