The South Korean Media and Newspapers - A Full Breakdown

The South Korean media is very difficult for global companies to break into. This is because the South Korean media and newspapers have had a bad reputation for being manipulated by the Korean government. Many might not know this, but freedom of speech is only partly true in South Korea. Many Koreans feel that many major publications are run by government implants that control the content released. There have been many brave Korean journalists who have stood up to the role the government plays in manipulating the news. These journalists have sometimes gone to jail or have lost their jobs. However, with the rise of social media, blogs, and independent media, the power of these major publications has been decreasing. For global companies looking to enter Korea, it is important to have a basic understanding of South Korean media and how they function.

Korean Chaebols and their role in the Korean Media

Samsung Press

It is not just the Korean government that influences the news in Korea. Korean chaebols have a lot of power within Korea and the Korean government. This is why negative press regarding Chaebols like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc., is rare. These Chaebols spend millions of dollars in advertising on major Korean publications. Therefore there is a huge conflict of interest there.

Moreover, any criticism of these major Korean companies needs to be 100% accurate because of the strict defamation laws in South Korea. Therefore today in Korea, there is a general lack of trust in the mainstream Korean media among the younger Korean generation. 3/4 of Korean citizens feel that the Korean government or major corporations influence these major news sites.

The Rise of Independent Media in South Korea

There is a movement, especially among young Koreans, to look elsewhere for their news. Korean citizens are no longer reading newspapers or watching the news on TV. Most now get their news from search engines like Google or Naver, Youtube, and social media. In addition, there has been a rise in independent media thanks to blogs, podcasts, and media platforms. More and more young people in Korea are voicing their opinions regarding politics, unemployment, and social welfare.

Korean TV Advertising is Dying

As more and more young Koreans stop watching TV, the sales of TV advertising have significantly fallen. Advertising revenue for many Korean TV stations has been down more than 55% since 2006. Furthermore, these trends will continue as we move towards a more digital age. It is estimated that most of the terrestrial broadcasting corporations in Korea will soon go bankrupt. Now the new generation’s dominant news source is in search engines, social media, and YouTube. Therefore Korean news media need to have a strong presence on Naver and Google and strong social media channels.

South Korean Media Doing Digital

While newspaper readership remains high, with over 100 national and local dailies, most of this is online. South Koreans get their news for free, as many newspapers have published their content online for free. Therefore, these media giants are finding it difficult to monetize their online content. Many are looking into premium content and paywalls, but previous experiments failed in Korea. So far, no mainstream South Korean media has been able to find a stable business model for online news services.

The main reason is Korea’s top web portal and search engine Naver. Naver offers news for free and has a vast reach of over 60% of the South Korean population. Another reason is that the Korean population does not trust news outlets. Only 21% of Koreans say they trust the news overall.

There are five major national newspapers in South Korea.  

The five major newspapers in South Korea are Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Donga Ilbo, Hankyoreh, and Kyunghyang Shinmum. As the world moves to the digital age many of these sites have created English channels and social media pages, and some even have their own YouTube channels. In addition, most of these newspapers have been focused on growing their Google presence and social media channels. However, they still have a long way to go. Many have their own English content section, but most of their content is in Korean.

5 Major Newspapers in South Korea

Chosun Ilbo

Along with Jonngang Ilbo and Donga Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo is one of the top three newspapers in Korea. They have a daily circulation of around 2 million. Their subsidiary Digital Chosun runs, which publishes content in Korean, English, Chinese, and Japanese. It is mostly right-leaning and is very nationalistic. Their target audience is the older generation (60+). Their site is also available in English.

Joongang Ilbo

Joongang Ilbo has an English edition called Korea JoongAng Daily, and they are partnered with the International New York Times. The Korea JoongAng Daily is the major English-language newspaper in South Korea. Many of their editorials are up in Newsweek and Forbes. In the past, Joongang was owned by Samsung. Therefore, while still conservative, it tends to be slightly neo-liberal and corporate-friendly regarding the Korean economy. Their site is also available in English.

Donga Ilbo

This is one of the oldest newspapers in Korea. The company started in 1920 and has a circulation of over 1.2 million. Their parent company is Dong-A Media Group which has 11 affiliates that cover many industries, such as entertainment, sports, education, and politics. They have also partnered with The New York Times, the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, and China’s The People’s Daily. It tends to target the upper-middle class. Their site is also available in English.


Hankyoreh is a reasonably new newspaper compared to the first three; they were founded in 1988. It is more progressive and is the alternative to the main press in Korea. Many journalists who joined Hankyoreh felt that the Korean government too influenced the top three newspaper. Currently, it is the most trusted news organization by the Korean press. Their site is also available in English.

Kyunghyang Shinmum

Kyunghyang Shinmun has an old history, but it became a player in the Korean media space in 1998. This was when the newspaper became independent, pretty much run by the employees. There are nearly 250 journalists and over 1.3 million visitors to its website daily. They also have a monthly lifestyle magazine for women called The Lady Kyunghyang.

English-based South Korean Media

The Korea Herald

The Korea Herald is the top English-based media in South Korea. They cover Korea’s political scene, business, sports, lifestyle, K-pop news, and entertainment. They have their tech section called The Investor, which covers the top companies in Korea and the Korean startup Ecosystem. Therefore The Korea Herald is a good source for news related to Korea in English. Most of their readers are from outside of South Korea.

The Korea Times

The Korea Times is very similar to The Korea Herald. They give the global audience a window into Korea by providing content in English. They have in-depth stories about Korea’s past, present, and future issues. The Korea Times offers news about South Korea and international news related to politics and business. It is the oldest independent English-language daily in Korea. They have served as Korea’s bridge to the world for over 70 years. The Korea Times covers various topics, from politics, economy, culture, and sports. They also have a forum where readers can share their views on important issues in South Korea.

Yonhap News Agency

Yonhap News is South Korea’s news hub for the global audience. They play a central role in the South Korean press by delivering news to its customers as well as newspapers, broadcasters, government agencies, businesses, and internet portals on a real-time basis. Most news media get the latest breaking news or press releases from the Government from Yonhap News Agency. They distribute content to over 900 client companies across South Korea. In addition, they distribute content to 83 news agencies in over 70 countries.

South Korean Media – TV & Radio

In South Korea, many people still listen to the radio as they commute, and everyone owns at least one television in their home. Regarding news, there are only three key players in Korea. The top 3 TV news networks are KBS (Korean Broadcasting System), MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation), and SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System). in addition to these top 3 major networks, there is a fourth network called EBS (Educational Broadcasting System) which focuses on instructional programming.

KBS – KBS started TV broadcasting back in 1961. However, they first aired radio signals back in 1927. They are now a public service broadcasting service and serve South Korea as a news source.

MBC – MBC is a public broadcasting corporation. Established in 1961, it has been forming international cooperation and partnerships with broadcasting companies worldwide. MBC produces programs that inform and entertain the Korean audience.

SBS – SBS is a national South Korean television and radio network company owned by the Taeyoung Chaebol. They provide content related to K-dramas, sports, news, and various programs.

EBS – EBS stands for Educational Broadcasting System. It is a South Korean educational public broadcaster and radio network that covers South Korea. It was established in the 1980s and became an independent corporation in 1990.

The Future of South Korean Media

The Korean government guarantees freedom of speech, press, and assembly for all Koreans according to their constitution. However, some forms of speech can be punished. The hope is that the South Korean media will not bow down to the Korean government. They need to focus on the facts and separate them from political interests that can lead to corruption. In addition, Korea needs to embrace freedom of speech even if the topics are controversial. The Korean media should not be teaching their citizens but just laying out the facts so that the public can come to their conclusions. To do this effectively, the Korean media needs support from the government. This is where it could get tricky. Support but not influence. This balance will be tough but as more and more media companies go under, the power will converge to only a handful of power media players which is never a good thing.


John is the Co-Founder of Seoulz. He has covered the Korean startup & tech scene for over eight years and has written over 700 articles regarding the Korean startup ecosystem. He has brought global attention to Korea's tech scene using Google SEO. Email him at

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