South Korean Conservatism Perpetuated by the Cho, Joong, Dong

Romy Koo, Editor

Fox News, CNN, and MSMBC consist leading cable news in the United States in 2020, a mix of liberal and conservative. [1] Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Dong-a Ilbo are the three most highly circulated newspapers in South Korea, all three of them conservative. As a native Korean, I’ve always wondered how the US has such successful liberal media outlets. Now, as an international student surrounded by peers from all around the globe, I’ve realized the real question is why all South Korea major media outlets are conservative. 

The United States population is more than six times that of South Korea. It seems only fair that America is home to more diverse perspectives. Their population accounts for more people sharing ideologies, coming together to create platforms, disseminating information, along with people funding such projects. Ostensibly, the large population makes America’s diverse media outlets inevitable. 

On the other hand, South Korea is a fundamentally conservative country on account of three factors: the population size, political culture, and Confucianism. South Korea has a racially homogenous population of 51 million, less than one sixth of the United States population. Along with the small size, the racial homogeneity strengthens Korea’s unique political culture of “unity”. As the people who have shown great resilience through collective effort over the course of history, unity is a source of pride among Koreans. In 1998, 3.51 million citizens participated in a successful nationwide gold collecting campaign to gather $2 billion in gold which greatly contributed to paying the debt to the IMF. [2] Even in sports, Koreans stand out as the ‘red devils’ as they fill the stadium clad from head to toe in the symbolic crimson to cheer on their country during the World Cup. 

But such unity is also a bane. Foreigners along with their foreign ideas are subject to racism and exclusion in Korea. Discriminatory acts against foreign residents and North Korean defectors is a serious societal problem, as demonstrated in Korean’s response to an influx of Yemeni refugees in 2018. Koreans purported that the refugees took advantage of visa-free Jeju to earn money off Koreans, and were carrying out sex crimes in Korea. As such, the small, tight-knit society lays the foundation for conservatism and thus an overwhelmingly rightist media. 

Confucianism has played a powerful role in sixteenth century Korea and remains a fundamental element of the Korean society. A key part of Confucianism is defining family relations, and they have set a clear “superior” side of the relationship. The Confucianist emphasize filial piety and female chastity. Confucianists have also expanded their conservative influence outside the boundaries of family and to other social aspects. Its vestiges are visible in everyday life: it shapes the Korean moral system, social relations between old and young, and their legal system. In addition to these remnants of Confucianism on the modern societal structure, Korean elders are still prone to Confucianist thinking. In an aging population like Korea, in which the age group of 65 and above is increasing every year, those elders constitute a significant audience of the three conservative newspapers – Chosun, Joongang, and Dong-a.

Lastly, the deep-rooted anticommunist mentality of South Koreans has continuously disparaged liberal media. Starting from the US influence during the Korean War in 1950, anticommunism has been functioning as a powerful ideology and institutional constraint in order to contain political opposition to the Korean authoritarian regime of the 1970s and 80s. The Korean pejorative for communists “Bbalgaengi (commie)” was coined during this era, and is commonly used till this day. Due to the ingrained hatred for communism prevalent in modern society, the Korean public are sensitive to anything that might suggest leftism in the slightest bit. Kim Eo-jun, a journalist and the liberal icon of South Korea, is active on online platforms such as YouTube, podcast and his internet journal ‘Ttangi Ilbo’ where he sparks controversy with his extremist claims. However, he seldom gets the spotlight on national TV due to the mainstream opinion that he is Marxist. 

As opposed to the United States, conservative news dominates Korean media due to Korea’s systematized conservatism and anticommunist mentality. Such concentrated media inevitably has its consequences; having the three biggest media outlets constantly attacking a liberal president harms democracy. Korea needs a powerful liberal voice comparable to that of the conservative trios to enhance the healthy check and balance.

[1] Watson, Amy. “Top cable news networks US 2020, by number of viewers.” Statista, 10 Nov. 2020,

[2] Holmes, Frank. “How Gold Rode to the Rescue of South Korea.” Forbes, 27 Sept. 2016,