THE COUP d'ETAT MODEL: Public broadcasting UNDER CONTROL
Shin Dong Kim
CIC Visiting Student
The University of Chicago
Ph.D. Candidate in Telecommunications
Indiana University, Bloomington
Paper submitted to the International Communication Division, AEJMC 80th annual
convention, Chicago, IL, July 30-August 2, 1997.
Shin Dong Kim
4800 S Lake Park #1209
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone & fax: 773.285.9337
e-mail: [log in to unmask]; [log in to unmask]
THE COUP d'ETAT MODEL: Public broadcasting UNDER CONTROL
Beginning with the year 1980, the media system of Korea underwent a radical
change in their ownership and structure. Media consolidation, or Ollon
T`ongp`yehap, a measure of consolidating and rearranging newspapers and
broadcasting companies, erased many media organizations and workers off the
stage of the nation's mass communication. This measure was only possible by a
violent oppression of coup regime, which needed a fast and complete control of
the nation's whole media system in its attempt to overthrow the government and
prevent people from forming anti-coup force. For Korean journalists and
broadcasters, the year 1980 is inscribed with a bitter memory of press
repression. It was one of the most terrible years of tragic political drama in
contemporary Korean history. After the collapse of 18-year long dictatorship of
president Park Chung Hee in late 1979, the year 1980 began with so-called the
"Spring of Seoul" indicating a revitalization of democratic political process,
which had been severely suppressed under Park's Yusin regime. During the
development years of 1960s and 1970s, Park's authoritarian regime was to some
extent quite successful in achieving economic development, though the seemingly
miraculous industrialization was achieved largely based on exploiting low-cost
labors and in the sacrifice of human rights and political democracy. Following
Park's death in 1979, the strong aspiration for political democracy exploded
like a live volcano throughout the country. The sudden and abnormal conclusion
of dictatorship (Park was assassinated by Kim Jae-gyu , then the head of the
Korean Central Intelligence Agency.), however, left a political vacuum behind
it, and this was promptly exploited by General Chun Doo Hwan to launch a coup
which eventually turned the country's political clock decades back in terms of
the development of democracy. Chun's illegitimacy developed even worse when he
brutally quelled the Kwangju Uprising by dispatching military troops and left
the city of then 600,000 people in bloodbath with some 200 civilian deaths. The
Kwangju Uprising was indeed the nation's greatest tragedy since the Korean War
in 1950. Accordingly the incident has never forgotten by many Koreans and has
remained as one of the most persistent sources of political controversy as well
as anti-government protests up to the early 1990s.
For the illegitimate dictator, controlling nation's media at his will was an
urgent necessity along with other repressive settlements to stabilize power
base. In fact the media had already been in tight control since the death of
president Park under the Martial Law. Even the war-like Kwangju Uprising which
lasted for ten days was never reported by any news media due to the complete
control laid on virtually all kind of news media by Chun's coup regime (Kim Shin
Dong 1993). To grasp a tight control on media, Chun promptly installed a series
of measures by sacking journalists, changing the media law, and establishing new
institutions and hierarchies.
In the beginning of 1980, the television of Korea was comprised of one public
television network (Korean Broadcasting System) and two private-owned commercial
networks (Munhwa Broadcasting Company and Tongyang Broadcasting Company) in
1980. As the Chun's regime imposed the Basic Press Act in the late 1980, the
two commercial television networks were reorganized as parts of a unified public
broadcasting system along with the existing public television, Korean
Broadcasting System and other radio stations. TBC was merged into KBS becoming
the KBS2 and MBC maintained its name while KBS turned into KBS1. The government
also created an educational television channel KBS3. The rationale of this
transformation of broadcasting system was creating a public service system
modeled after Western Europe. No prior discussions regarding the reform of
television system had ever existed before the legislation of the Basic Press Act
in 1980. It was reported that the private owners of television and radio
companies voluntarily offered their companies to the state in a total agreement
on public interest cause. In fact, it was simply not true. The owners of those
media were deprived of their properties by force and could not say a word on the
measure until Chun's regime collapsed in late 1980s.
Thereafter the era of public broadcasting in Korea began. From the start,
there was not much to believe that the new system would be genuinely public.
Whether it would be a truly public or not, however, it is important to note that
a large-scale institutional transformation of television system which happened
in the midst of political upheaval of 1980, precisely reflected characteristics
of the repressive coup d'etat politics. Furthermore, the 1980's formation of
the public broadcasting system, which initially viewed as a tentative system of
media control, was perpetuated throughout the whole period of the Fifth Republic
as the system was stabilized and routinized through newly installed regulatory
institutions such as the Korean Broadcasting Commission.
The focus of current paper is on elucidating the nature and process of the
systemic transformation of the Korean broadcasting since 1980. It has been one
of the main arguments of the political economic approach in media studies that
the existence and performance of any media system in a capitalist society is
generally conditioned, if not determined, by the economic system of the given
society. Different from this proposition, the transformation of the Korea's
television system in 1980 shows that it was decisively political rather than
economic that had driven and shaped the change of media system. The
establishment of public broadcasting system driven by a political cause,
however, brought about a paradox of economic advantage by providing an
institutional basis of capital accumulation on the part of television industry.
Interestingly, this financial growth of television companies during the early
1980s was not a main purpose, if not unintended, of the consolidation of
My major argument here is that the Korean state's repressive media policy in
early 1980s was basically formed by the need of illegitimate coup d'etat which
aimed at using all media systems for political propaganda, however, for the
media which compromised their public role with dictator's need, the period
proved to be a golden opportunity to rise as big corporation with massive
amounts of capital accumulation. It was the state that created a political and
legal condition, which made the television system to serve the coup group's
immediate interest. But, the state's protection of monopolized television
industry had unintended consequences for those who promoted it, creating a new
set of conditions that could not have been predicted by policymakers. Here, my
analysis is confined to the transformation of Korean television system in
relation with the nation's radical political change, a military coup, and the
expansion of television industry as an unintended consequence of the coup d'etat
formation of media system.
In the following, I first review some theoretical issues and propose an
analytical model for this study. Next, I survey the political context in which
an extremely repressive state intervention on media was possible, and then
investigate strategies and tactics that the state employed in its effort to
strengthen the control of media. I argue that the phenomenal growth of the
state monopoly public television system resulted a policy outcome which might be
termed, in a retrospective sense, as a state market formation/growth policy,
even if the financial growth of television system was not the first priority of
the state policy on media.
The coup d'etat formation of media system
Studies on mass communications have well placed media in relation with
political factors such as political process, political change, the type of
government, elections, etc. In fact, some divisions of media studies such as
political communication, media policy, political economy, etc. are particularly
devoted to the study on relationships of media and politics, its impact on
political process, and policies of media system. Despite there is a wide range
of difference in terms of political factors among countries, not much have been
researched on the making of media system in radical political changes. One of
the reasons may be found from a social and political situation of media studies
itself where most of studies have been done in advanced democratic societies.
For example, in the United States where the studies on political communication
has been carried out most vigorously, the main threshold of studies is focused
on rather stable political process, narrowing the scope of study down to
relationships between media and voting behavior, public opinion, agenda-setting,
and so on. While these studies certainly have their own merits in viewing the
function of media in such a political formation, theories produced from the kind
of soil often expose weaknesses when applied to other countries where political
factors are arranged in different configuration. Unlike the advanced democratic
countries, the nature of political change tend to be more radical and dynamic
(or less institutionalized) in many less developed nations. It is also true
that revolutions and coups are forming rather a normal type of political change
in these countries when they are largely perceived as "improbable" by the
citizens of democratic society. As in the democracy, however, the roles and
functions of media are also crucial in a non-democratic political process, while
the actual contents of those roles and functions are quite different from each
One of the theories that might be useful in viewing the roles and functions of
media in a society of radical political change such as coup is found from Herman
and Chomsky's propaganda model (1988, 1-35). In proposing their propaganda
model of mass media, they argue that the mass media in societies where the power
belongs to state bureaucracy and large capital, serve the ends of a dominant
elite. Elaborating their propaganda model, they specify five ingredients or
"filters" which make the media to function as a device of dichotomization of
messages and propaganda campaigns. These five filters include:
i. concentrated ownership and profit-orientation of the dominant media;
ii. advertising as the primary income source of the mass media;
iii. heavy reliance of media on information provided by government and
iv. flak as a means of disciplining the media; and
v. anticommunism as a control mechanism.
Following the conceptual formulation of the propaganda model, Herman and Chomsky
give a well documented cases of media control in that how media are controlled
by and serve for the interests of bureaucratic power and capitalists both in the
United States and Third World countries. Assuming a direct and powerful effect
of media, the model renders some usefulness in viewing the role of media in a
coup process in which all media are tightly seized by coup force. In a social
situation where media system is tightly controlled by the state and a small
group of capitalists, the propaganda effect of media can be direct and enormous.
Furthermore, it is not only the media system but also all other social sectors
that are under direct control and intervention of the state in a coup situation.
Despite their numerous illustrations on political violence on media, especially
in Third World countries, Herman and Chomsky do not seem to succeed in bringing
the brutal as well as illegitimate political actions of the state into their
conceptualization of the model. With the five filters of the propaganda model,
taken simply as they are termed as 'filters', the model is more applicable to
advanced capitalist societies than less developed countries. The first filter
of the model, according to their theory, could be summarized as concentration of
ownership and profit-orientation of the dominant media. This is very much an
economically skewed generalization, whereas in fact media systems in less
developed societies are frequently under state ownership and thereby not
necessarily profit-oriented as they would normally be in capitalist countries.
More importantly, in a situation where a stable political process is denied by
violent interventions of military groups, concentration of ownership,
profit-orientation, reliance on advertising, flaks, etc., could only be minor
factors that shape the formation of media-state relationship. On the contrary,
the violent characteristics of coup d'etat politics in which terror of power
rules almost all aspects of social dynamics need to be counted for in full
Having the propaganda model in mind, I propose a coup d'etat formation model of
media system (hereafter coup model) to examine the case of Korean television in
early 1980s. In 1980, the military coup d'etat led by an army general Chun Doo
Hwan immediately formed an emergent political situation in which all normal
political procedure could not function in the way that they should have done.
As researchers on coup unanimously point out the importance of media in the
execution of coups (Ferguson 1987; Luttwak 1968; O'Kane 1987), one of the most
urgent task for the coup launchers was to seize the nation's media system to
justify their illegal action as well as to shield themselves (and their coup)
from a possible counter-action from the government or any other anti-coup
forces. As Luttwak pointed out in his study on coup (1968, 118-119), "control
over the flow of information emanating from the political centre is the most
important weapon in establishing authority after the coup. The seizure of the
main means of mass communication is thus a task of crucial importance" (quoted
with a slight change in style). However, the seizure of a nation's media system
is not a simple task as it may sound. Even in a country of small size, there
are multiple outlets especially in the case of radio and television facilities.
Furthermore, for the coup launchers, the objective is not merely to seize the
facilities but to "monopolize the flow of information", which means a total
control over all media (Luttwak, 119). The control of media is crucial factor
not only in successfully launching a coup but also in stabilizing the
unauthorized power after the coup.
Coup d'Etat Model of Media Control
Comparing with the five filters of the propaganda model, the coup model may
also have to secure at least three following ingredients:
i. Concentration of ownership;
ii. Control of information source;
iii. Anticommunism (or other forms of national ideology) as a control
iv. Source of income that can solve a funding problem.
Unlike the propaganda model, flak is not really a matter in the coup model since
media is already under direct control of the state. During the early years of
1980s, the Fifth Republic's media policy was precisely a case of replication of
these four ingredients. As a coup regime, which lacked political legitimacy,
the foremost goal of media control was given on legitimation of the regime while
excluding opponents' access to the media.
Table 1. Coup model and propaganda model
Filters or ingredients
Corporate capital in state supervision
Corporate capital, state
Corporate capital in competition
State policing agencies (military, police, etc.); corporate capitals as
advertisers; media firms as collaborators; formal regulatory agencies (KBC,
Media firms; corporate capitals both as media owners and advertisers; state
regulatory agencies (FCC) and government
Omnipotent state power; terrorism in politics (intimidation, torture, etc.);
appeasement (material rewards, promotion; legal device (Basic Press Act)
Market competition; selective leaking; regulations favoring corporate media;
potentially violent state power; flaks
Blocking flow of information; Ideological machine of state, monopolized
"dichotomization", Ideological machine of state and capital, monopolized /
oligopolized media market
As shown in Table 1, however, the two models have quite a difference in terms of
their actual contents of filters, actors, mechanisms, and outcomes. While the
propaganda model depends more on corporate capital in the filtering process, the
coup model emphasizes state that controls corporate capital itself.
Anticommunism was a useful ingredient in both models especially under the Cold
War formation of international politics. With its bitter experience of civil
war against communist North Korea in 1950, and continuing division of nation for
half a century, anticommunism has been a crucial national ideology in the South
Korean politics. One of the justifications of the coup that the Chun regime
propagated was to protect the country from the possible invasion of the North.
Chun's coup regime actually sacked intellectuals and opposition politicians by
labeling them as communists or collaborators to communists.
State and capital are major actors in both models; however, the dominance of
state is remarkable in the coup model. As a social organization, to use Max
Weber's definition, which "claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical
force", the state exercises its coercive power in advanced capitalist societies
as well as less developed countries. In the case of coup politics, however,
the coup group's use of violence is hardly legitimate. If the use of overt
physical violence tends to be minimized in a stabilized polity, it is
omnipotence of coup state power that rules the unstable political situation with
visible and intimidating violence. Applying its brutal violence openly, the
coup state creates a mechanism of enforcement by which it boldly brings media
institutions under its tight control. Even if the outcome of media control,
i.e., the ideological machinization of media and monopolization/oligopolization
of market, is similar in both models, the mechanisms through which the state or
capital achieve effects are quite different one another. It is the omnipotent
and omnipresent state power that best characterizes the enforcing mechanism of
In the following sections, I examine how these ingredients were actually
developed in the forms of institutions and practices. As a measure of
concentrating ownership, the coup state of 1980 enforced the so-called Ollon
t`ongp`yehap, or media consolidation. Issuing Podo chich`im, or report
guidelines was another measure of controlling information source. Media workers
were sacked in the name of cleanup campaign. And massive amounts of capital
earned from the monopolized advertising market resulted in broadcasting giants.
But before I go into these, an overview of early 1980's violent political
situation, which made the radical and crazy media transformation possible, seems
to be required.
Terror of coup d'etat politics
Following the President Park's assassination in late 1979, the politics of
Korea in 1980 was a highly volatile situation with hope for democracy and fear
of social disorder. The sudden death of long-time dictator brought about a
political break in which a regular routine of political process was unable to be
carried out. Considering a legal procedure, the emergent situation should have
immediately been put in order by the administration led by then the Prime
Minister Choi Kyu-ha, however, tamed by a strong one-man system for decades, the
proxy administration was utterly incapable of managing the crisis. Exploiting
this power vacuum, in December 12, 1979, a group of military generals led by
Chun Doo Hwan launched a coup and succeeded to seize power. Chun's position at
the time was the commander of military intelligence agency, which was
responsible in investigating President Park's assassination. After launching
the so-called 12.12 coup, Chun designate himself as the head of the Korea
Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) in April, 1980 while keeping his original
post, which practically meant a full control over the nation's 'instruments of
violence' and information. The scope of activity of the Korea Central
Intelligence Agency, founded in 1961 with American CIA help, penetrated into
every arena of Korean life. Indeed it was 'the supreme state agency' as
characterized by a Korean political scientist (Cumings 1989: 10). Making
himself the head of the supreme state agency, Chun's subsequent moves were
As the political process following the death of Park showed little progress
toward democratization and the suspicious move of Chun's military group became
more visible, the voices of students, intellectuals, and politicians requesting
the government's prompt normalization became louder. Assemblies and
demonstrations were held across the nation. General Chun's hard-line policy
especially led to a sharp confrontation in Kwangju, a city of then six hundred
thousand people and the scene of an uprising and bloodbath between May 18 and
27. The Kwangju Uprising became a significant landmark not only in the struggle
for democracy but also in the process of the formation of Chun regime. After
killing its own people by using the nation's own military force, Chun's regime
was left with nothing to fear anymore. The politics of terror openly began.
Having suppressed the Kwangju Uprising with brute force, Chun further tightened
his grip on the government. On May 31, 1980, the Special Committee for National
Security Measures was created for the ostensible purpose of "aiding the
president (Choi Kyu-ha) in directing and supervising martial law affairs and to
examine national policies." The 25-member committee, which was headed by the
president himself, included principal cabinet members, chiefs of staff, and nine
generals of Chun's cohort, but this committee was not to be the supreme organ of
power. It was the 31-member Standing Committee of the Special Committee headed
by Chun himself, included 18 field-level officers on active duty plus 12
high-level government officials, that actually controlled the affairs of state.
This junta council, or the "Kukbowi" as the Special Committee known, reportedly
aroused deep fear and awe among population since one of the 13 subcommittee was
in charge of 'cleansing' society and the polity, and was a law unto itself.
It was this Special Committee that initiated and managed the reorganization of
press including broadcasting in 1980. Executed by the so-called 'press team'
under the military intelligence command, the Special Committee purged large
number of media workers, closed or took media firms, and began to issue report
guidelines which was continued throughout Chun's regime. Political and economic
control of television was institutionalized through newly established
organizations such as the Korean Broadcasting Commission, the Korea Broadcast
Advertising Corporation, and so on. In such a short time period, under the
threat of brutal violence and terror, the nation's whole media system promptly
went under the control of coup group.
Media consolidation and the birth of public broadcasting system
The so-called 'New Military Group (Sin kunbu)' which initiated the coup in 1979
and 1980 approached media in two levels to bring the system under their
control: personnel level and institutional level. Winning leading journalists
over to their side and sacking dissident journalists was one of the first job
for the NMG in their attempt to control the media. On institutional level, NMG
pushed a legislation of Basic Press Act, establishment of public broadcasting
system, creation of other state controlled institutions, i.e., Korea
Broadcasting Commission, Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation, etc.
When accused of his anti-constitutional coup of 1979 and 1980 at a National
Assembly hearing which was held a decade later (December 31, 1989), Chun
quibbled that neither had he an intention to take power nor was his military
action a coup. He argued that he simply reacted to protect the nation from the
immanent crisis (Sindonga P`yonjipsil 1990). But his false testimony only
provoked a national anger and disgust given the disclosed evidences that confirm
his planned seizure of political power. Recognizing the importance of media
system in the success of coup, Chun's New Military Group(NMG) laid a very
carefully arranged plan to take over the media in early 1980. According to a
classified document, the 'K Project Plan', which was exposed to the public only
in 1990, NMG was eager to bring leading journalist around to their side. The K
project was designed and executed by the military intelligence command, which
had already created a press team soon after the coup of 1979. At the core of
the project, there was a list of 94 journalists who were working at leading
media organizations, i.e., seven daily newspapers, five broadcasting companies,
and two news agencies. Their position in the organizations were mostly
editor-in-chiefs, editorial writers, desk editors, publishers, and so on. In
other words, they were the people who actually had most powerful positions in
making national opinion. The K Project Plan contained a careful analysis of
those journalists' political orientations and personal backgrounds. It also
carried results of initial contacts with 18 journalists out of 94, indicating
none of those 18 was against the NMG's rise to power. Although not all
journalists were cooperators of the new military regime, some of those leading
journalists subsequently found their way in the new regime as high-post
If the rise of some cooperative journalists was a comedy of dark politics
directed by the military regime, purging large number of journalists who had
been critical to the authoritarian regime was a tragic event. The so-called
"clean-up campaign" which began in May of 1980 was seemingly targeting corrupt
politicians and bureaucrats who had accumulated surprising amount of wealth by
misusing their powers. But the campaign not only eliminated those corrupt
officials and politicians but also arbitrarily utilized to remove "corrupting" -
that is, liberal or critical - intellectuals and journalists. According to one
source, the total number of purged media workers was 933 including 705
journalists from major newspapers and broadcasting (Kim Hae-sik 1994: 155).
This removal of journalists was intensified by another measure for press control
under the banner of "media consolidation" (Ollon t`ongp`yehap). Three national
and four local newspapers were forced to shut down. 172 periodicals that
allegedly caused "social decay and juvenile delinquency" were summarily
abolished -- among them some of the finest intellectual magazines of liberal
inclination and prestigious journals for general audiences -- resulting in the
dismissal of some 10,000 journalists and workers (Lee Chong-sik 1981: 135). The
following Table 2 shows reduction of media workforce before and after 1980. It
should, however, be noted that many of those who lost jobs by the consolidation
of media were not in fact targeted by the regime but picked up by their own
companies. In other words, companies "took the opportunity of ridding
themselves of staffers considered incompetent or troublesome in other ways, so
not all of the firings were politically motivated" (Far Eastern Economic Review
15 August 1980). According to the Far Eastern Economic Review's report on
August 15, 1980, however, the criteria for the mass sacking of journalists
include (i) those considered sympathetic to socialist ideas or lacking in
anticommunist zeal; (ii) those with a record of criticism of government; (iii)
those who campaigned for freedom of the press during the political turbulence of
May, demanding the lifting of martial law censorship; (iv) those considered to
have close personal relations with either opposition of former government
politicians; and (v) those considered corrupt, either through taking pay-off or
running side businesses.
Table 2. Changes of workforce before and after 1980 Ollon t`ongp`yehap.
(Number of media companies)
Source: Sinmun kwa pangsong (1980. 4; 1985. 5).
The media consolidation measure of December 1 reshuffled broadcasting system to
a unified public system as shown in Table 3. TBC television was merged in KBS
to become KBS2 and MBC transferred 70 percent point of its share to KBS. All
the radio stations except religious ones were also merged in KBS system. If the
purpose of the press unification and rearrangement measure was strengthening
political control over the media, the way it was administered was violence
itself. Before the measure was publicized, on November 12, owners of media
companies were all called to the headquarter and branch offices of the military
intelligence command and asked to sign on a 'memorandum of relinquishment' which
was already prepared by the Special Committee's press team. The memorandum
begins with a statement as following: "With the beginning of a new time, in full
cooperation with the state media policy, I approve the following settlement by
which XXX(company) that I am representing is to be taken care of. I shall raise
no objection to the settlement in any form including criminal prosecution,
administrative litigation, and so on in the future."(Chong Chae-yong 1988) For
those owners who were innocently forced to give up their private property, there
were only two choices: to sign on the paper of theft or to suffer a dreadful
hardship including torture and even death. Naturally none of the owners chose
Consolidating diverse broadcasting outlets into a unified public system was a
significant move for the coup group, which sought a readily manageable apparatus
of political propaganda from the beginning of the coup. The concept of public
broadcasting system borrowed from Western Europe's model (the BBC in particular)
was merely a disguise employed to justify the coercive seizure of private
property. The establishment of the public broadcasting system found its
justification from the malice of privately owned commercial broadcasting. In
other words, according to the protagonists of public system who made sudden
appearances from here and there, commercial broadcasting was not good enough to
breed a healthy national culture. It was of course a ludicrous attempt to hide
the sun by a hand. Although there had been criticisms against television
commercialism prior to 1980, they could not be a proper
reason to bring the media to the state supervision. Furthermore, as shown in
Table 3, even the religious radio stations such as CBS, FEBC, and Asea, were
forced to give up news reporting, being allowed only to deliver religious
content. Viewing this consolidation of television and radio under a public
Table 3. Ollon t`ongp`yehap, the coercive consolidation of Korean broadcasting
(1 December 1980)
DBS Donga pangsong
KBS Radio Seoul
Merged in KBS
Merged in KBS, becoming KBS2
KBS Kwangju 2Radio
Merged in KBS
KBS Kunsan Radio
Merged in KBS
CBS Kidokkyo pangsong
FEBC Kuktong pangsong
Confined in religious broadcasting
MBC AM Radio
MBC FM Radio
21 local affiliations were converted into subsidiaries of Seoul MBC. The latter
bought 51% of shares from each local station.
KBS Educational Radio
KBS Social Education Radio1
KBS Social Education Radio2
KBS Overseas Radio (10 language service)
KBS took over DBS, TBC, Chonil pangsong, Sohae pangsong, and Han'guk FM
KBS also took 70% of MBC's share.
KBS 3TV(UHF), an educational television channel, was created.
Source: Korean Broadcasting Commission (1982). 82 yonch`a pogoso[82 Annual
the frame of coup model, it seems that the military regime's intent may best be
understood as concentration of ownership and control of information source, both
are designed to promote, as Luttwak argued, a monopolization of information.
Another mechanism of the state's direct intervention in media may be most
dramatically shown in so-called daily 'report guidelines (Podo chich`im)' which
were issued to all newspapers and broadcasting networks from the initial stage
of coup. During the short transition period from the 12.12 coup to the formal
establishment of the Fifth Republic in late 1980, the NMG controlled press by
issuing detailed guidelines of report under the martial law. Just before
extending the martial law to the whole country on May 17, which was then
limited to Seoul area, the military distributed a list of specific guidelines to
follow to all media institutions. As is shown in the following (Kim Tong-son
1987), the guidelines were highly definite "Do-nots".
1 Any report justifying or supporting student actions should not be
1 Three family members of the arrested who marched in the front row of
demonstrators at the Sungkyunkwan University and Kunkmin University can
not appear in
2 Do not report students' slogan such as 'Depossess the filthy property',
mistake, Kim Il Sung! No change in anti-communism'.
3 Do not report the fact that some student demonstrators served to put the
traffic in order.
4 Do not report that the policy waged a hand-to-hand fight with students as
raged at some servicemen's injury.
5 Do not report anything on the Unification Party.
6 Do not report any comment of citizens, students, and demonstrators on
As with other institutional changes, the report guidelines were not only
enforced during the coup stage, but also sustained throughout the Fifth
Republic. In other words, an extremely irrational measure installed to control
media under a Martial Law became a fixed routine and remained after the Martial
Law was actually lifted. Furthermore, the report guidelines given to media had
become more specific as the state's media control institutionalized as a daily
routine. It was the Public Information Coordination Bureau of the Ministry of
Culture and Information that carried out this function on administrative level.
Following examples of the report guidelines, which enforced during the late
period of the Fifth Republic show that they are more specific and cover broader
range compared with above quoted cases:
[Ex. 1] November 4, 1985. University students occupation of the American
of Commerce office in the Choson hotel. At 1:08 P.M. police took all into
1. Do not make this the top story on the social page.
2. Do not use a photo.
3. Do not write in the heading [that the demonstrating students] belong to
Seoul National University Committee for the Struggle for National
[Ex. 2] November 7, 1985. At the Ministry of Finance, the Monopoly Office's
change to a publicly owned corporation [i.e., a distancing from the state].
absolutely clear the point that [this action] "is not due to American
pressure to open
[Ex. 3] December 23, 1985. It is desired that the UPI story " Possibility
Economic Downturn in Korea during 1986" not be carried.
[Ex. 4] December 24, 1985. Do not relay the story about President Chun
appeared in the December 23 edition of the Asian Wall Street Journal,
[Ex. 5] January 9, 1986. Relating to U.S. sanctions on Libya:
1. It is best not to report just the American perspective but to report
the extent of our construction companies' advance [into that market] from
perspective of our national interests.
2. Do not report the movement of on-site Korean construction companies in
and related matters after the [imposition of] American sanctions.
[Ex. 6] July 22, 1986. On the overall settlement of the Korean-American
1. Use "Overall Settlement of Trade Problems" for the main heading.
2. The various responsive measures announced by government offices
intellectual property rights, cigarettes, insurance, etc. are to be
reported in detail
as "complimentary measures."
3. The opposition party, nongovernment, and various interest groups'
are to be reported briefly.
4. Even though foreign news agencies report "Bowing to American Pressure"
the story is to be reported under the headline of "Our side's Voluntary
5. Even though some news commentaries went out as "Retreat from Original
on Copyrights," change that to "Government's Countermeasures."
[Ex. 7] November 18, 1986 (Kim Tong-su 1988):
1. University students 'Broke in the Democratic Justice Party building,
up'. Report this news on city page with critical tone.
2. Police headquarter's release 'Student demonstration recently imitates
(Japanese) Red Army'. Play up this news with a title of 'Red Army
Until the dissident monthly magazine Mal printed excerpts of these news
guidelines in its September issue of 1986, they were not known to the public.
Shortly after the revelation, reporters who exposed them were prosecuted for
revealing national secrets. Irrational and unreasonable things were already
everyday routine under the repressive Chun's regime. The prosecution of these
reporters is a representative of the kind of direct oppression by the state to
control dissident journalists.
Managing media with carrot and stick
The state, however, not only gave media and journalists the harsh sticks such
as sacking and arresting journalists, shutting down newspapers and stations,
and so on, but also provided sweet carrots. Carrots were also given to both the
media organizations and media workers including journalists. For the
broadcasting organizations that unified under the KBS system, 1980s meant a
great opportunity to enjoy a monopoly (formally an oligopoly of KBS and MBC)
market situation, which was well protected by the state. Due to the continuous
economic development, the nation's media and advertising markets were in
rapid growth and the market entry was strictly concealed by the Basic Press Act.
Accordingly, the time had arrived for the media organizations to accumulate with
Before the introduction of public broadcasting system in 1980, Korea had one
nominally public television (KBS) which did not carry any commercial, and two
commercial television networks financed solely by advertising revenue (MBC and
TBC). Although MBC could retain its name after 1980, its ownership was in fact
transferred to KBS, and TBC became KBS 2TV. In actuality, then, all networks
were unified into KBS system. After the consolidation, ironically, all three
networks began to carry commercials and financed by advertising under the name
of public system. The logic of this bizarre configuration was that the method
of finance was not so important if the profit made from the management could be
used for public project (So much would have been true if the fund was really
used for the interest of the public.). By establishing the Korean Broadcast
Advertising Corporation, the state monopolized broadcast advertising agency
business and generated public fund from the operation of the KOBACO. The fund
was supposed to be used in promoting public good. In reality, large chunk of
this fund was utilized as carrots for journalists. Under the pretext of
improving the quality and welfare of journalists, the money was used to finance
journalists' travel, house purchasing, scholarships for both themselves and
their off springs, etc.
More importantly, as the state secured public broadcasting system in monopoly
status, all channels enjoyed abundant cash flow without worrying about
competition. As a result, the income level of media workers soared high enough
to make them reposition themselves as the leading edge of middle class. New
entrants of broadcasting company began to receive substantially higher salary
(roughly about 20%-50% more) than those of big conglomerates. Despite the
increasing public discredit on broadcasting, competition to enter the company
has become tougher throughout the 1980s and finally reached to coin a new word
"ollon kosi" hinting that becoming a reporter or producer is as hard as being
selected as lawyers or government officials.
Another important mechanism to appease journalists and at the same time to
control media organization can be found in the use of head position in each
media firm. As the state brought two privately owned television channels under
its control, the president appointed the position of head in each company. Chun
filled those positions with his loyalists who especially worked hard for
pro-Chun propaganda. Those positions were also recognized as temporary stops
toward even higher political appointments such as ministers or presidential
advisors. For just a few examples, Yi Wung-hee, former editor-in-chief of
Dong-A Ilbo in 1980, sequentially took positions of spokesman of Blue House
(1981), Head of MBC (1982-86), Minister of Information and Culture (1986), and
Member of National Assembly in the ruling party's seat (1988). Yi Chin-hee,
former editorial writer of Seoul Sinmun in 1979, wrote pro-Chun editorials on
the eve of Chun's rise when most people were afraid of it, and soon began to
changing positions to head of MBC (1980), Minister of Information and Culture
(1982-85), and Head of Seoul Sinmun and Sports Seoul (1985-87). Chong Ku-ho,
former deputy editor-in-chief of Seoul Sinmun in 1979, also held various
positions such as head of Kyonghyang Sinmun (1980), spokesman of Blue House
(1986), and head of KBS (1986-1988). Many other editors and reporters who
witnessed the brutal as well as illegal coup of Chun also voluntarily jumped on
the dictator's bloody wagon rather than fought against it. As heads of major
media organizations, these people devoted to manage their media for the purpose
of pro-Chun propaganda to promote themselves to the next positions. In fact
they were neither journalists nor businessmen while they were still in media
firms, but opportunistic politicians whose major concerns were not in journalism
but in politics.
The politics-media adhesion, or so-called chong-on yuch`ak, was already a
deep-rooted problem of Korea's journalism since the Third Republic. Park's
authoritarian regime picked pro-regime journalists for political positions as a
way of controlling media criticism. Politically aspired journalists themselves
used their power of reporting and writing to channel their ways toward politics.
Eventually it became a question of chicken and egg. Reporters in charge of
political beats have generally been perceived as potential pool of future
politicians, and many of them in fact jumped into real politics using their
connections formed while in journalism occupation. To the part of owners of
media firms, political connection has been more important than their companies'
business performance in the market. Anti-regime stance meant a deadly risk that
can cost the existence of firms let alone rise and fall of them. During the
mid-1970s, Park regime's oppression of Dong-A Ilbo exhibits a succinct example.
As the giant daily tried to keep a critical stance to Park regime's policy, the
state pressed advertisers to avoid buying Dong-A's space, which interestingly
provoked ordinary readers to write lots of encouraging letters and send their
pocket money to the paper. The happening resolved as a bitter victory of the
paper, but the cost was high. Under a far harder oppression of Chun regime in
early 1980s, no media dared to challenge the terror of coup state. On the
contrary, many private-owned newspapers were busy justifying Chun's "patriotic"
move, to say nothing of the state-controlled broadcasting.
State monopoly and capital accumulation of television
Coup regime's endeavor to monopolize information sources and outlets resulted a
monopolized television market. Whatever the state had done with the mass media
for the purpose of brainwashing the peoples' perception of the illegitimate
political power (the propaganda mission) during the early 1980s, in economic
sense, one of the most notable point we can spot is that both newspapers and
broadcasting along with advertising had grown to be big corporations throughout
the 1980s (Kim Shin Dong 1996; Kim Hae-sik 1994; Kang Myungkoo 1993; Kim Dong
Gyu 1992). In 1988, both KBS and MBC recorded 3,371 hundred million Won ($421
million) and 1,572 hundred million Won ($196 million) of annual revenues
respectively. Compared with those of 1981, these figures are roughly three
times bigger. In 1994, MBC ranked 51st and KBS 56th among world's 100 largest
television companies (Television Business International 1994: 23). The growth
of the broadcasting industry in 1980s is spectacular. As already mentioned,
this rapid financial growth of broadcasting was due to the institutionally
secured monopoly system, however, it would not been possible without
astonishingly growing advertising market. As Vogel pointed out, "[b]roadcasting
revenue trends are dependent on advertising expenditure patterns, which are in
turn related to total corporate profits" (1994: 18). During the 1980s, total
advertising revenue of Korea swelled from 3,184 hundred million Won in 1981 to
two trillion Won, marking 628 percent point of increase. The ratio of
advertising spending to the GNP moved from 0.74 percent point in 1981 to 1.20
percent point in 1990. As shown in the following table and figure, it is
supposed to be growing up to 1.50 percent point by the turn of the century. In
1980 the volume of the Korean advertising spending ranked 23rd in the world, in
1989 it was 13th.
Table 4. Growth rates of broadcasting advertising revenue and GNP 1981-1990
Advertising revenue (%)
Gross National Product (%)
Source: KOBACO (1991). Pangsong kwanggo yongop paekso. p. 25; Original source:
Economic Planning Board (for 1981-1989 GNP) and Bank of Korea (for 1990 GNP).
Note: Figures in parentheses are the growth rates calculated including MBS's own
sales of advertising in January 1981(6,300 million Won).
Figure 1. Growth rates of broadcasting advertising revenue and GNP 1981-1990
(current price) (%)
Despite the political upheavals in 1979 and 1980, the military regime succeeded
in boosting the nation's economy, which had sunk into a deep depression in
late 1970s. As shown in Table 4, the growth rates of GNP in early 1980s were
quite remarkable, and so were the growth rates of advertising revenue of
broadcasting especially in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Following the GNP soar in
1981, ad revenue skyrocketed in the next year showing 40.08% of growth rate.
Except three years in mid-eighties, the growth rates of ad revenue were all
higher than those of GNP since 1982. As the advertising market expands,
interestingly, KBS's revenue source shows a parallel move toward advertising.
As in Table 5, KBS raised about 60% of its revenue from license fees while ad
revenue accounted for less than 40% in 1981. After five years, the ratio
reversed, and the share of license fee was only 23.4% in 1988. Even MBC, which
had never been operated on license fee, increased its share of advertising
revenue from 89.9% in 1981 to 94.8% in 1988 as displayed in Table 6 and Figure
What then is the point that we can notice from the growth of advertising and
broadcasting industry in early 1980s? Wouldn't it be possible even if the
broadcasting system remained as a mixture of commercial and public dual system
as they had been in pre-1980? With the growth of overall national economy, it
is not difficult to assume that both advertising and broadcasting sector would
have been expanded, even if there had not been the media consolidation and the
monopolized public system. The increasing demand for television is also
reflected on the growth of relay cable television as shown in Table 7. Both
the number of cable television operator and receiver rapidly increased during
the early 1980s, and the portion of illegal operators and receivers were also
sharply increasing. This could be interpreted as a market response to the
shortage of monopolized television systems in providing diverse need for
channels. The public monopoly system of television recorded a rapid financial
growth, but it does not mean that the overall broadcasting industry was well
developed with diversifying channels, promoting public culture while not
prohibiting advertising market, etc. On the contrary, politically protected and
legally concealed broadcasting market hindered a normal growth of electronic
media as evidenced in the increasing share of illegal cable operators and
subscribers. The existence of illegal operators was negligible at the initial
stage, but soon they attracted public attention as their penetration became all
too well visible. Furthermore, since most of these illegal operators were small
businesses with little money, the quality of their service could not be
satisfactory. Low-quality movies filled chunk of their programming, yet more
people wanted to hook up their sets to cables. Consequently, the problem of
cable television became a political agenda from mid-1980s.
However, it is important to remind that the question is not whether the
broadcasting system financially expanded but how the financial and commercial
expansion was more vigorously executed under the banner of public system. In
1970s, there were only two television channels which carried commercials; in
1980s, ironically enough, the public system which stood on the abolition of
commercial television companies (MBC and TBC) made additional outlet of
advertising to the two previously commercial channels. To be sure, this was a
glad news to big corporations who were anxiously looking for easier access to
advertising outlet. But the distortion of television market caused by state
monopoly public system could not meet with expanding market demand in both
advertising and channel choice.
In sum, we can trace the coup regime's policy of media system on different
dimensions. Firstly, the state consolidated broadcasting system to monopolize
information sources and outlets for the purpose of political propaganda;
Secondly, in doing so, the media consolidation resulted in a monopoly system of
broadcasting which made the television companies possible to grow as big
corporations; Thirdly, the state monopoly public system of television caused a
market distortion that hindered a normal development of electronic media;
Finally, and most importantly in light of my argument, this process was
basically maintained through continuing application of coercive media control
based on the repressive politics of coup. As the Chun's repressive coup regime
collapsed in 1986, the suppressed demand for diversified television outlets
surfaced, and this became a political burden to the following regime.
Table 5. Composition of KBS's total revenue 1981-1988
(Hundred million Won, %)
Source: Kim, Hae-sik (1994). Han'guk ollon ui sahoehak. Seoul: Nanam. p.207;
Original source: KBS nyonji (1981-1988).
Figure 2. Increase of advertising share in KBS's total revenue
Table 6. Composition of MBC's total revenue 1981-1988
(Hundred million Won, %)
Source: Kim, Hae-sik (1994). Han'guk ollon ui sahoehak. Seoul: Nanam. p.207;
Original source: Chong, Yon-u (1989). "Kwanggoju e uihan ollon t`ongje",
Chonollisum, Fall and Winter. p. 207.
Figure 3. Increase of advertising share in MBC's total revenue
Table 7. Increase of cable television providers and receivers 1982-1987 (%)
Cable TV provider (Total)
Cable TV provider
Cable TV receiver (Total)
Cable TV receiver
Source: KISDI (1988.12.) Yuson TV ui hyoyulchok yuksong ul wihan unyong chedo e
kwanhan yon'gu. Seoul: KISDI. p. 27.
Conclusion: growth of television and a stillborn public system
From the inception of public television system in 1980 up to the 1987, the
Korean state's relationship with television may well be described by "state
monopoly commercial television", an authoritarian public system. State
intervention on the television market was extremely concentrated while it
maintained a strong control on the media. I have characterized the Korean
public broadcasting system in early 1980s as a coup model case. Unlike the
propaganda model that puts emphases on private ownership of large capital and
fails to emboss the violent characteristics of radical political change, and
thereby looks over the role of state in molding media systems, the coup model I
proposed here succinctly shows that state power is decisive, even in a
capitalist society, in a coup-like situation. Two most important as well as
interesting points I made here include: the mechanism of media control in the
coup model is fundamentally depends on the omnipotent and omnipresent state
power which arbitrarily applies its use of violence in almost every steps; the
politically motivated state intervention eventually resulted an economically
monopolized system of broadcasting by which both KBS and MBC could emerge as big
corporations. In that limited sense, I argue that the Fifth Republic's
broadcasting policy was market formative. While overall direction of industrial
policy of the Fifth Republic was aimed at more deregulation and
decentralization, the coup state could not afford to let the media industry
including broadcasting play on rules of market. In other words, control of
media through decentralized market was not an option for the coup state that
needed immediate and direct seizure of media or communication channels. By
establishing public system, the state effectively took privately owned
broadcasting stations, and was able to use the system as if it was a state
agency. Figure 4 shows processes and outcomes of media consolidation and
control of the coup state. It is important to note that in every step of the
process, decisions were backed by visible or invisible threat of violence. As
summed up in the figure, the coup state's approach to media may be broken into
two types, formal institutional control and informal conventional control. On
formal level, legal and institutional devices were used to consolidate media
system, which rendered a monopolized broadcasting dinosaur. On informal
conventional level, state intervened on everyday practice of media production by
issuing report guidelines, checking journalists on their political alignment,
alluring journalists into the corrupted politics, and so on.
The formation of public broadcasting system as characterized in the coup model
not only served immediate need for political propaganda in early 1980s, but more
importantly also grounded (or strengthened, perhaps) an institutional legacy of
state-dependent media. Mass media of Korea had never been independent from
political power under the Park regime that itself rose to power through a
military coup in 1961. The media has hardly been a checker of political power
but has aligned itself with the interest of political power for decades. During
the short periods in 1960 and 1980, the Korean media showed that it was willing
to speak up on behalf of the people, but soon resumed to serve political power
as the coup state laid hard hands on it. Removing actual owners of broadcasting
stations, Chun filled the head-position of broadcasting companies with his
loyalists. Filling top positions of media organizations with Chun's loyalists
not only meant an immediate control of it, but also left the media with a deep
structure of subordination to political power, as it happened in the previous
decades. Pro-regime minded and politically opportunistic reporters and editors
lined up for important positions in every media firm and develop a connection
which effectively exclude reform-minded colleagues. Even after the fall of coup
regime, these people last and seek another chance to collaborate with successive
power. Consequently, the coup formation of media system fundamentally
contributed to destroy media's watchdog function and left it as an institutional
The public broadcasting system of Korea might have been public in terms only
that the system was no longer owned by private capital or state in formal sense.
Being motivated by the need of coup state, however, the system was a stillborn
public system from the beginning. It only contributed to the state propaganda
and the making of broadcasting behemoth.
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Vogel, Harold (1994) Entertainment Industry Economics, 3rd Ed. Cambridge
 It seems now that global competition or national competitiveness has been
replacing it as an ideological slogan since the fall of the socialist Eastern
 Quoted from Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation. In Gerth and Mills (Eds.)
 New Military Group's coup of December 12, 1979 was not really completed
until Chun's group extended Martial Law to whole nation on May 17, 1980, and
brutally quelled the Kwangju Uprising. Therefore, in my view, the coup was
still in process during the early months of 1980.
 Newspapers were Dong-A Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Han'guk Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo,
Kyunghyang Sinmun, Seoul Sinmun, and Sina Ilbo. Broadcasting companies include
KBS, MBC, TBC, CBS, and DBS. Tongyang T`ongsin and Haptong T`ongsin were two
news agencies (Sindonga p`yonjipsil 1990).
 These examples are quoted from Janelli (1993: 65-66) and translation from
the original Korean to English is also his.
 Table. Major economic indicators of South Korea, 1979-1986 (percentages)
Source: Haggard et al. (1994: 76)
 In Korea, to enter media firms, one should take entrance exams given by
each company. "Kosi" is an examination system through which the state selects
lawyers and high civil servants, which usually means a very difficult yet
rewarding path to success.
 I took these examples from Sindonga Pyonjipsil (1990).
 Chun's economic policy was essentially the same in terms that it found
legitimacy of his coup regime from the 'development dictatorship', and pursued
high rate of growth through continuing oppression of labor. It, however,
endeavored a structural adjustment of economy that attempted to reduce the
privileged position of big conglomerates and promote competition. For an
analysis of the Fifth Republic's adjustment policy, see Haggard and Collins
(1994); For Chun's administrative style in managing economic policy, see Chong
 Relay cable television indicates cable operators that mostly transmit
reruns of network programs and cheap movies for urban business subscribers
(hotels, restaurants, etc.) and/or rural residents who could not have clear
reception of network television. They are differentiated from the general cable
television operators that began in 1993 with the solely devoted cable program