THE ROLES OF THE MEDIA AND MEDIATED OPINION LEADERSHIP
IN THE PUBLIC OPINION PROCESS:
A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF A POLITICAL INCIDENT IN KOREA
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Paper submitted to the International Communication Division,
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Chicago,
THE ROLES OF THE MEDIA AND MEDIATED OPINION LEADERSHIP
IN THE PUBLIC OPINION PROCESS:
A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF A POLITICAL INCIDENT IN KOREA
An attempt to explore situational factors of public opinion, this paper
content-analyzed newspapers regarding a political incident in Korea, where the
government reversed its initial policy position, yielding to the public demand.
Proposing the significance of alternative media and societal opinion leaders in
helping public opinion affect this policy reversal, this paper compared the
coverage of mainstream and alternative newspapers and addressed the potential
influence of the societal opinion leaders, as demonstrated in newspaper content.
Findings indicated that the coverage of alternative newspaper might have been a
better source for quality aspects of pubic opinion (knowledge, over-time
consistency, and opinion organization) and for intensity aspects of public
opinion (opinion certainty and behavioral likelihood to actualize one's
position); possible influence of societal opinion leaders on activities of
public and routinized critical groups (dissidents and oppositional parties)
emerged. Findings are discussed in light of shared responsibility among the
media and other actors in political controversies.
The Role of the Media and Mediated Opinion Leadership in the Public Opinion
THE ROLES OF THE MEDIA AND MEDIATED OPINION LEADERSHIP
IN THE PUBLIC OPINION PROCESS:
A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF A POLITICAL INCIDENT IN KOREA
"The will of people is the will of heaven." This Korean proverb emphasizes the
importance of the public will, or public opinion. The idea that public opinion
should be equated with the fundamental law governing public policies has been
stressed by classical democratic theorists. The importance of public opinion, as
acknowledged by such theorists, was well summarized by Peters (1995):
Public opinion claims to be the voice of the people, a clear and direct
utterance from the
citizenry. It is indispensable to the legitimacy of all governments which aim
their power from "the consent of the governed." The very idea of democracy
the people") requires "the people" to take part in political discussion and
Despite the significance of its ideal version, public opinion has also been
characterized as an implausible governing force. Lippmann (1925), confronting
the ignorance of people regarding current events, insisted that the general
public was inherently incompetent to direct public affairs. Converse (1964)
noted that mass belief system lacked a pattern of constraint to organize
interrelated opinions in a coherent form. Furthermore, Converse (1970) concluded
that people had "non-attitudes," a nonexistence of true opinions on issues,
after demonstrating inconsistent responses on issues. Election studies
repeatedly found that people's understanding of various issues in campaign is
considerably low (Bennett, 1989 & 1995; Kinder & Sears, 1985).
However, as studies conceptualizing public opinion as process have
demonstrated (McLeod, Pan & Rucinski, 1995), systematic, and better,
understanding of public opinion requires researchers to investigate its
relationship with other factors in society. The idea that people's political
opinion formation may vary according to situational factors has been
demonstrated by issue voting studies (e.g., Nie, Verba & Petrocik, 1976; Pomper,
1972). Nie et al. (1976) reported that when an election was a competition
between candidates with distinct issue positions, as opposed to similar /
identical positions, voting tended to be based on issues. In other words,
people's inability to articulate reasoned opinions (which guided a voting choice
in the above research) depends to some extent upon how situational factors
facilitate their opinion formation.
It goes without saying that the media are among the most important
situational factors influencing public opinion formation. As Graber (1982)
stated, the media provide the symbolic background against which the public
opinion process proceeds on various political issues. Given that political
events are remote from people's everyday lives and that the media can be viewed
as a monopolized mechanism connecting the general public with political issues
and events, how the media report activities in the political domain is no less
important than the extent to which public opinion is knowledgeable, organized,
An attempt to explore situational factors of public opinion, this paper
content-analyzed newspapers regarding a political incident in Korea, where the
government reversed its rigid initial policy position, yielding to the public
demand. Proposing the significance of alternative media and societal opinion
leaders in helping the public opinion affect the policy reversal, this paper
compared the coverage of mainstream and alternative newspapers and attempted to
identify possible influence of the societal opinion leaders, as demonstrated in
newspaper content. Below are theoretical grounds guiding the content analysis
and some contextual information regarding the political incident and newspapers
analyzed in this study.
Two Functions of the Media and Public Opinion Formation
Price and Roberts (1987) identified two kinds of media functions in the
public opinion process: reporting and polling. They defined the reporting
function as the media's mediated representation of important events and
political actions. Among the components of the reporting content are news and
commentaries. The polling function, they understood, is the media's mediated
representation of the public's organizing responses to issues. Informal
characterizations of trends in public reaction through such coverage as
interviews and summary news reports comprise the polling content. Thus, as a
reporting agent the media deliver news stories and analyses regarding an event's
historical context, development, key aspects, and related issues; as a polling
agent they provide information on how various segments of society react to a
certain issue, i.e., the opinion climate. Consequently, public opinion is formed
with significant reliance on these two sources provided by the media.
As the distinctiveness of the media's reporting and polling functions
demonstrates, public opinion, as a complex concept, may not be approached with a
unidimensional understanding. The inadequacy of understanding public opinion as
comprised of simple directional preferences has been suggested (Kuklinski &
Hurley, 1996). In this paper two distinct dimensions of public opinion are
distinguished corresponding to the media's two roles in the public opinion
process: public opinion with quality attributes and with intensity components.
The quality of public opinion refers to the extent to which people perceive an
issue based on an informed understanding, and it is assumed that the media's
performance of their reporting function may enhance or undermine the quality of
public opinion. The intensity of public opinion concerns the degree to which
people are committed to their positions (opinions) on an issue, and it is
assumed that the media's polling function is closely related to the intensity of
As discussed above, public opinion has been criticized as unqualified on at
least three grounds: ignorance, inconsistency over time, and lack of opinion
organization among related issues. Thus, regarding these criticisms as
indicating main elements of public opinion's quality attributes , the media's
reporting function can be evaluated in terms of to what extent the media may
help people develop knowledge of an issue, maintain stable opinions about it,
and perceive related issues in a coherent manner.
For intensity of public opinion, two aspects may be deemed important: the
extent to which people are certain about their opinions, and the degree to which
they are willing to perform certain actions to realize their opinions (see,
Price, 1992, pp. 65-68). The media as a polling agent are the most relevant
source influencing the intensity of public opinion. The media's mediated climate
of opinion describing how others in society think about an issue and behave in
relation to the issue may significantly affect people's perception of their own
opinions' correctness and their inclination to act. Thus, the likelihood of the
media's empowering public opinion (so that people become active participants to
actualize their opinions) through presenting various social segments' activities
supportive of public opinion should be an important criterion by which the media
performance in public opinion processes is evaluated (Gurevitch & Blumler,
Variations in the Media System: Alternative and Mainstream Media
The difference between mainstream and alternative media is frequently employed
in popular discussion and academic research. McLeod and Hertog (1992) showed how
mainstream and alternative media differed in terms of their coverage of the same
event. They are not only different in their content, but also in their political
consequences (Gonzalez, 1988). Also, the role of these media as agenda-setters
for the mainstream media (i.e., spill-over effects) has been demonstrated
(Mathes & Pfetsch, 1991). Thus, the investigation of mainstream and alternative
media in the public opinion process should be important empirically (i.e., as
distinctive influence on public opinion) as well as theoretically (i.e., as
distinctive components in the public opinion model).
An Alternative Newspaper in Korea: Hankyoreh. Among various changes in the
Korean media environment which have occurred since the democratization process
in the late 1980s and early 1990s has been the emergence of alternative media
(Youm & Salwen, 1990). In particular, Hankyoreh, an alternative nationwide daily
newspaper, has various characteristics attracting researchers' attention.
Hankyoreh's significance can be viewed in light of the public sphere thesis
theorized by Habermas (1991). According the thesis, various institutions in 18th
century Europe could function as the bourgeois public sphere, where rational and
critical debates among participants were warranted, because of their distinctive
social location during that particular historical period : the public sphere's
independence from economic and political pressure, largely owing to the
development of capitalism, which provided economic and political resources for
the new political class, the bourgeoisie (Garnham. pp. 106-107).
It is the democratization in Korea, which created a political and economic
ground that has enabled Hankyoreh to be relatively independent from economic and
political influence. In an economic sense, Hankyoreh's unique ownership
structure is worthy of note. To establish and stabilize the newspaper company,
Hankyoreh has conducted several nationwide fund-raising campaigns directed at
the general public; as of Aug., 1990, its paid-in capital of $23.8 million came
entirely from 58, 298 shareholders through those campaigns (Shim, 1990).
Furthermore, any shareholder is prohibited from owning more than a 1% stake, a
policy which specifically aims at preventing financial influence by unequal
economic power (Shim, 1990).
In terms of independence from the state, the characteristics of the journalists
who initiated the newspaper are unique. Under previous military governments in
Korea, many reporters were dismissed from their media organizations because of
their critical stands against authoritarian policies; some of them were even
imprisoned. Those who lost their positions as journalists in the legitimate
media environment during these regimes, however, continued their activities
through unofficial channels. The changed political environment provided these
journalists with an opportunity to resume their watchdog role, and Hankyoreh
became the main symbol of this transition. Hankyoreh was initiated by some 200
journalists who underwent such experiences, making its independence from
political influence highly predictable.
This study compared Hankyoreh with Chosun Ilbo, a mainstream newspaper in
Korea. Founded in 1920, Chosun Ilbo is considered as the daily newspaper with
the largest circulation in Korea. Chosun prints 2,257,200 copies per day, while
Hankyoreh does 600,000. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Korea
Gallup in Dec. of 1995, Chosun has the highest subscription and recognition
rates in Korea.
The Role of Societal Opinion Leadership in the Public Opinion Process
Since the concept of the two-step flow was introduced in the late 1940s
(Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1948), studies regarding opinion leadership
have represented an independent stream of research. Many of these studies have
dealt with the effects of opinion leaders in interpersonal interactions and/or
networks (Huckfeldt & Sprague, 1995; Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955; Weimann, 1991).
However, given the importance of the media in the political domain, mediated
opinion leadership through the media may be no less important than interpersonal
opinion leadership in public opinion processes. In the literature, mediated
opinion leadership has frequently been investigated by addressing political
elites' persuasive efforts (Hart, 1987; Kuklinski et. al., 1996; Sigelman &
However, in Korea and in many other developing nations, those who occupy
leadership roles in various non-political domains such as education and religion
have been perceived as exerting considerable influence in political
controversies. In this paper these people are called as societal opinion
leaders, distinct from political elites who attempt to lead public opinion for
their own political motives. Societal opinion leaders can be defined as
non-political elites whose publicly mediated opinions on issues are regarded as
credible and exemplary particularly in controversial political affairs.
Who constitutes the societal opinion leadership may depend on the society or
nation of interest. In Korea, professors, among others, are perceived as
pointing out the just way in political controversies. Their prestigious position
in the society is deeply grounded in the nation's culture, which highly honors
learning and those who teach. They have been repeatedly ranked as the most
trustworthy people in public opinion polls. Politically, parties' frequent
attempts to recruit or nominate professors as their congressional candidates in
order to refine their images and these parties' explicit advertising of these
efforts in campaigns demonstrate the political significance of this group in
Korean society. Historically, Korean society witnessed various contributions to
democracy by professors during the authoritarian regime.
Societal opinion leaders in Korea have been unroutinized sources of opinion
leadership in political matters, a fact distinguishing them from other
routinized critical opinion-generating groups such as oppositional parties and
dissident groups. That societal opinion leaders are those who do not routinely
publicize their political opinions and who are regarded as credible in society
may make their critical public action have a significant impact on public
opinion. Consequently, the media's coverage of the societal opinion leaders'
critical activities may be an index on the basis of which the media's
performance as a situational factor of public opinion is tested.
During the political incident discussed below, the societal opinion leaders led
the way. For the first time since 1987, when there was a popular movement
against the government's anti-democratic policies, professors as a group
publicized their opinions, and this public expression was followed by other
groups of societal opinion leaders, such as priests, lawyers, and secondary
school teachers. A close investigation of the processes by which these
unroutinized societal opinion leaders influenced public opinion is beyond the
scope of this paper. However, the significance of mediated opinion leadership by
these people in the public opinion process was indirectly assessed by content
The Kwangju Incident
The years 1979 and 1980 were the most critical period in modern Korean
politics: the assassination of ex-president Park on the 26th of Oct., 1979,
opened a bright possibility for the country to attain a democratic regime. Park
had run the country as a dictator since the military coup in 1960. However, a
military group, represented by Generals Chun and Roh, attempted another military
coup, and through several political events, they came to control Korea. After
eliminating these generals and other government officials who opposed their
political plots, Chun, Roh and others established their power firmly in the
military and government. They took charge of the main committees ruling Korea
under martial law. In May, 1980, they suppressed a democratic civil uprising in
the city of Kwangju which had opposed another military authoritarian regime. The
military crackdown in Kwangju resulted in at least 240 civilians dead and 1,800
injured, and further firmed the new military rule.
On the first of September, 1980, General Chun became president. General Roh,
who was a leader of the coup and Chun's closest friend, became president in
1988. Because of its political significance in the modern political history of
Korea and the severe treatment afforded to the people in Kwangju, the incident
has been politically controversial.
The Kwangju incident, however, was not publicly debated until 1988, when
the ruling party became the minority party in congress. Three oppositional
parties joined together on the issue and demanded congressional hearings. Even
though such hearings provided many people with a chance to learn about the
incident, the hearings produced few significant results. The reason was that a
merger between the ruling party and two oppositional parties changed the
political map in Korea, thereby resulting in the discontinuation of the
congressional investigation into the incident.
In 1993, Young-Sam Kim, the first civilian president, declared that he would
democratize Korea. Under the changed political environment, 320 people
representing victims of the Kwangju incident accused two ex-presidents and
others involved in the incident, arguing that the Kwangju crackdown indicated a
rebellious political effort by the accused. However, on July 18, 1995, the
prosecution decided not to prosecute the accused on the ground that juridical
judgment was impossible in a rebellion that had been successful. The prosecution
reasoned that the legal ground that might have proven the illegality of the
rebellion was non-existent, because the old constitution, which had been
violated by the rebellion, was abolished after the rebellion succeeded. If the
rebellion had not been successful, the prosecution would have indicted the
accused, because the activities of the accused would have been confined (i.e.,
judged as illegal) by the old constitution. However, those who led the rebellion
(or the crackdown) replaced the old constitution with the new one, which
legitimized the rebellious activities. Therefore, the prosecution concluded that
the Kwangju incident did not formally constitute a case of (illegal) rebellion.
The prosecution's decision drew criticism not only from the victims, but
also from the general public. A telephone survey, conducted by a newspaper on
the day when the prosecution reported its decision, showed that 74.3 % of 875
randomly selected adult respondents from the whole nation stated they disagreed
with the decision (Joong-Ang Ilbo, Jul., 19). Dissidents and students critical
of the government's decision began staging rallies demanding the indictment of
the ex-presidents. Since the statutory limitation for legal actions in the case
of rebellion is 15 years and would expire on Aug. 15, 1995, those asking
governmental action on the issues called for special legislation which would
waive the statutory limitation and appoint special prosecutors to investigate
the incident more thoroughly without political pressure. Also, the victims who
accused the ex- presidents and others appealed to the Constitutional Court,
arguing that the prosecution's decision was un-constitutional. However, the
position of the government was firm. The president and the ruling party insisted
that such political events as the Kwangju incident should be judged by history.
On July 31, two weeks after the prosecution announced its decision, professors
at the Korea university as a group publicized their opposition to the
prosecution's decision and demanded the indictment of the two ex-presidents
through the passage of a special law. Finally, on Nov. 24, 1995, President Kim
announced that the government would prosecute the ex-presidents and others
involved in the Kwangju incident by legislating special legislation waiving the
statutory limitation on the case. One newspaper called the decision the
"People's victory" (Hankook Ilbo, Nov. 27, 1995).
On the basis of above discussion, following research questions were formalized.
RQ 1. How differentially did Chosun and Hankyoreh, mainstream and alternative
newspapers, respectively, perform their reporting role, which might have
helped people have an informed understanding of issues related to the
Kwangju incident (i.e., quality of public opinion in such areas as
knowledge, opinion consistency over time, and opinion organization among
related issues) ?
RQ 2. How differentially did Chosun and Hankyoreh perform their polling
function, which is assumed to help people committed to their opinions on
Kwangju-related issues (i.e., intensity of public opinion) ?
RQ 3. Were societal opinion leaders a significant factor in the public opinion
process? If then, what were their potential effects and how were they
covered by Chosun and Hankyoreh?
Samples and Coding
Articles in Hankyoreh and Chosun Ilbo concerning the Kwangju incident and
the governmental policy decision, which were published between July 19 to Oct.
18, 1995, were collected. Chosun reported 168 articles (531 paragraphs)
during that period, while Hankyoreh reported 255 articles (1339 paragraphs).
The relevant newsholes (i.e., politics and society sections) of both newspapers
are comparable. Two graduate students from XXXXXXXX independently coded the
news stories in both newspapers. They achieved an overall agreement rate of
84.4%; for Chosun, it was 84.5% and for Hankyoreh, 84.3%.
Reporting and Polling Contents
In analyzing the contents, first it was determined whether a given content
originated from a reporting role or a polling role. As stated above, the
reporting content concerns quality aspects of public opinion as a basis for
reasoning and issue-understanding (e.g., knowledge and rationales for an
opinion). The polling content is related to the intensity of public opinion as a
source of the climate of opinion on the issue of the Kwangju incident. Thus,
staff-written (or staff-initiated) stories such as news analyses, opinion
columns, and editorials were categorized as reporting contents, because these
contents may have helped readers' reasoning about the Kwangju incident in
various ways, which will be discussed later. Interview articles presenting views
of individuals and groups were classified as polling content, because these
interviews directly delivered the opinion climate of population segments.
Factual news articles were categorized as either reporting or polling content.
If a story covered the case itself (i.e., legal proceedings by the victims and
the prosecution), it was classified as reporting content, because such a story
provided information for understanding the case or its development. If a news
story concerned the reactions of various groups and individuals (e.g., public
announcement and protests), it was categorized as polling content, because such
news indirectly (i.e., through news reports) provided the climate of opinion
concerning the case. However, when a group's position was quoted in a
staff-written article (e.g., editorials), the quotation was regarded as
reporting content, because an introduction is understood as a means of providing
supportive evidence for a given article's argument.
Reporting content and quality of public opinion. As discussed above, this paper
addresses three quality attributes of public opinion: knowledge, consistency and
opinion organization. Consequently, the media's reporting content was
investigated in light of these three aspects. Content on knowledge refers to
stories addressing the historical context of the Kwangju incident (e.g., how and
what happened) and legal proceedings by both the prosecution and victims.
Opinion consistency is rather narrowly understood as referring to people's
opinion consistency in terms of their critical stance on the prosecution's
decision. Specifically, articles included in the category were critical general
evaluations of the decision not to prosecute (e.g., the decision is based on
political calculation rather than on legal consideration; the argument about
successful rebellion is unpopular dated logic), and those pointing out the
incompleteness of the investigation (i.e., discussing various points the
investigation failed to reveal). These kinds of contents are expected to
help the public refute arguments for the prosecution's decision by providing a
critical base, thereby enabling them to maintain their opinion.
Opinion organization, which refers to the integration of opinions on related
issues, may be enhanced by the media content addressing issues related to the
Kwangju investigation and providing connections among them. Four issues were
selected: how to deal with those currently in the military who were directly
involved in the violent Kwangju crackdown (one of them was General Kim,
currently the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff); how to treat those who had
testified falsely in the previous hearings, as was revealed by the prosecution's
investigation; how to view the issues concerning the passage of a special law
and the special prosecutor system; and how to understand some legal issues such
as the statutory limitation and the deliberations of the Constitutional Court.
Articles related to these issues but discussed in the context of interviews and
various coverage of groups' activities (i.e., polling content) were not
categorized as content in the opinion organization category; thus, most stories
in this category were editorials and staff columns.
Polling content and intensity of public opinion. Polling content refers to the
media's coverage of various segments of population in terms of their reactions
to the issue of interest. Three types of groups were differentiated as objects
of media polling, or representing the opinion climate in the polling content.
Routinized critical groups include the three oppositional parties and dissident
groups. Among the societal opinion leaders are professors, priests, lawyers, and
teachers. Also, in several cases, individuals without any social or political
positions were included in this category, because their opinions'
non-routineness shares some characteristics of the societal opinion leaders.
Finally, a different opinion climate was analyzed: the opinions of those
supporting the government's decision. Among these were views of the ruling party
leaders and those accused.
Quality of public opinion.
(Contextual information of the incident)
According to the Seoul district prosecution's reports on " The real fact of
civilian victim in Kwangju incident," ....... some airborne infantrymen shot
civilians to death intentionally or by misconceiving them as armed
protesters........ (Chosun, Jul. 19).
(Proceedings by the victims)
On the 24th, 322 accusers led by Dongnyun Jung appealed to the Constitutional
Court, arguing that the Court disaffirm the prosecution's decision not to
indict accused 35 people including ex-President Chun....... (Hankyoreh, Jul.
(Proceedings by the prosecution)
The Public Welfare Division 1 of the Seoul District Prosecution undertook an
investigation of the case of false testimony in the Kwangju Congressional
hearings, as the Association of Lawyers for Democratic Society filed a
complaint against seven witnesses including ex- President Chun............
(Chosen, July 23).
2. Opinion Consistency
(Critical evaluation of the prosecution's decision)
......... Not only did the prosecution's decision issue a "civilian
government's" indulgence to the new military group that came to power through
various illegal measures, but it also acknowledged that the prosecution did not
have an intention to make a legal judgment on the past faults.............
(Hankyoreh, July 19).
3. Opinion Organization
(Issues on those in the military)
The nation where the commander of the troop that killed innocent civilians
occupies the highest position in the military--- the nation is Korea........
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Kim, wrote down his resume as
follows: " I, as the commanding officer of a regiment, played an important role
in suppressing the Kwangju protest from May 20 to July 27 in 1980.......
(Hankyoreh, July 23).
(Issues on false testimony)
....... the Congress must immediately accuse those who falsely testified.....
but the statutory limitation for the false testimony case is pressed for time,
too. The statutory limitation for false testimony in Congressional hearings is
seven years........ Thus, the prosecution should accelerate its investigation
of the case of false testimony...... (Hankyoreh, July 24).
(Issues on special prosecution system)
Special prosecution system refers to a system by which lawyers other than
prosecutors perform roles of prosecutors concerning a certain case............,
therefore, special prosecutors can maintain political impartiality without
influence from the Minister of Justice.... (Hankyoreh, July 21).
(Issues on the Constitutional Court's deliberation of the case)
..... what the Constitutional Court judges is whether the prosecution's
political decision, "the successful rebellion is not the object of legal
judgment," fundamentally violated the court's peculiar jurisdictional
right....... (Hankyoreh, August 19).
Intensity of public opinion.
1. Routinized critical groups
(The oppositional parties)
In a meeting presided over by the president, the Democratic party decided that
it would not accept the prosecution's decision on the Kwangju incident and that
the party would stage a public movement to accomplish the indictment of the
accused...... (Chosun, July 20).
On the 29th, hundreds of thousands of college students at 100 universities
nationwide, including Seoul, Pusan and Jeonnam universities, started a two-day
class-boycotting campaign, demanding the legislation of a special law.....
(Hankyoreh, September 30).
2. Un-routinized critical groups
On the 31st, 131 professors at Korea university publicized "Our opinions on the
prosecution's investigation and decision," maintaining that the prosecution's
decision not to indict is an act to demolish the essence of law, politics, and
morals in our society...... (Chosun, August 1).
(The Catholic church)
......... The Catholic church organization foretold that, until the end of this
week,.......1,300 priests including 10 bishops, 5,000 nuns and 130,000 general
believers would sign a petition. The church organization announced that........
excluding foreign priests and those in abroad, literally almost all the priests
and nuns participated in the signature- collecting campaign..... (Hankyoreh,
On the 4th, the Korean Lawyers' Association decided to launch a
signature-collecting campaign among 3,084 member lawyers in order to press the
legislation of a special law for punishing the Kwangju incident-related
criminals.... (Chosun, October 5).
3. Pro-government groups
(The ruling party)
...... the secretary-general, Kang, clearly stated that "there will be no
political negotiation concerning the Kwangju issue" and that "we will logically
cope with the situation in Congress and will vote down the legislation of a
special law."...... (Hankyoreh, October 3).
In Table 1, findings on how each paper devoted its space to reporting content
are presented. The reporting content was conceptualized as media stories which
may contribute to people's informed understanding of a given issue.
Specifically, newspaper stories were evaluated in terms of their possible
contribution to three quality attributes of public opinion: knowledge, opinion
consistency, and coherent understanding of related matters. Given the initial
reaction of public opinion regarding the Kwangju issue, overwhelmingly critical
of the governmental decision not to indict those accused, the main interest in
comparing two newspapers should be to what extent each newspaper might have
helped the public have knowledge-based opinions, maintain critical stance over
time, and make coherent connections among inter-related issues.
In total, Hankyoreh appeared to report almost three times as much (526 vs. 187
paragraphs) and the average number of paragraphs per each story was greater in
Hankyoreh (9.1) than in Chosun (6.4). These overall differences themselves
indicate heavier treatment of the Kwangju issue in Hankyoreh, given that two
newspapers' newshole sizes are comparable. Except for procedural stories,
Hankyoreh's such emphasis on the Kwangju issue was clearly demonstrated in terms
of greater amount of space it allocated to the issue.
Related to the knowledge aspect, historical descriptions of the Kwangju
incident were provided in Hankyoreh in greater detail and length. Chosun
reported a total of 37 paragraphs in 3 stories, and Hankyoreh, 182 paragraphs in
8 stories. Chosun's coverage (12.3 paragraphs per story on average) on the
context of the incident was presented only on the 19th of July, 1995, the day
when the paper reported the prosecution's decision not to indict the accused to
the court. In contrast, Hankyoreh extensively reported various aspects of the
incident for three days (from July 19-21), and given a story regarding the
historical context of the Kwangju incident, on average, there were 12.8
The two newspapers' reporting on legal proceedings staged by both the
prosecution and the victims were of almost identical frequencies and length.
Chosun reported 13 stories with 83 paragraphs (6.4 paragraphs per story) on
activities of the prosecution and 4 stories with 11 paragraphs (2.8 paragraphs
per story) on those of the victims, while Hankyoreh covered the prosecution 10
times with 61 paragraphs (6.1 paragraphs on average) and the victims three times
with 12 paragraphs (4 paragraphs on average). Since these stories were news
concerning the legal procedures of the case (i.e., announcement of
non-indictment, appeal to the Constitutional Court, investigation of false
testimony, etc.), the contents and the dates reported were almost the same.
One important factor essential for the public to maintain their critical stance
(i.e., opinion consistency) may be their capability to point out various flaws
in the prosecution's investigation. Then, our expectation for the media would be
their scrutiny of the investigative process. The findings indicate that
Hankyoreh's coverage was clearly better than Chosun on this criterion. Hankyoreh
covered the issue one and a half times as frequently (13 vs. 9 stories), and as
much in detail (9.1 vs. 6.2 average paragraphs per story). Hankyoreh's
criticisms focusing on the inadequacy of the prosecution's logic on the
successful rebellion's unprosecutableness, the likelihood of political pressure
interfering with the legal decision, and the various flaws in the investigation
process might have been a useful basis for public's maintenance of critical
opinion. Additionally, Hankyoreh's reportage on the incompleteness of the
investigation seems more systematic, given that it presented this issue in a
series of articles from July 20 to 24.
News stories providing readers with connections between various related
issues were found only in Hankyoreh. Interestingly, Chosun turned out to
allocate no space to such content, whereas Hankyoreh devoted a significant
number of stories to these four issues (6 stories per issue and 6.4 paragraphs
per story, on average). Except for the subject regarding legal issues which was
first addressed on Aug. 4, until July 22, all stories were covered at least
once, thereby presumably helping people process the upcoming discussions on
these issues. Special legislation and a special prosecutor system, the most
debated topic during the period investigated, was discussed most often.
Table 2 shows findings on the papers' polling content. Polling content
refers to the media's presentation of various social segments' reaction to a
given issue. The polling content was assumed to have significance in the Kwangju
case, because the degree to which the media covered activities critical of the
government's policy might have been related to politicizing critical public
opinion (i.e., intensity of public opinion), in terms of their perceived
certainty of their opinions and participation in related activities. On the
basis of each group's opinion regarding the governmental decision (i.e.,
supportive or critical) and the degree of routineness of critical activities,
four groups are differentiated: oppositional parties, dissident groups, societal
opinion leaders, and pro-governmental groups.
The findings indicate almost the same pattern as observed in Table 1.
Hankyoreh's presentation of the opinion climate critical of governmental
policies was more extensive than Chosun's (122 vs. 180 stories and 306 vs. 763
paragraphs, with 2.5 vs. 4.2 average paragraphs per story). Given that the
overwhelming majority of public demanded the indictment of the ex-presidents and
others involved in the Kwangju incident, Hankyoreh's version of opinion climate
seems to have been in the line of critical public opinion.
The critical positions of oppositional parties was treated by both papers
with relatively comparable weight. Hankyoreh covered oppositional parties'
activities with a slightly greater frequency (38 vs. 31 stories), but given a
story, the difference between the two papers in length was negligible (2.2
paragraphs for Chosun; 3.0 for Hankyoreh).
However, Hankyoreh's heavier treatment of the critical climate of opinion in
society was prominent in its reporting on dissident groups and societal opinion
leaders. Chosun's coverage of these groups was limited. Dissident groups were
clearly marginalized in Chosun, which presented 32 stories, only a half the
frequency of Hankyoreh's coverage (61 stories). In terms of the number of
paragraphs (97 vs. 299) and the number of paragraphs per story (3.0 vs. 4.9),
Chosun assigned much less significance to dissident groups. A separate analysis
of the two papers on the most extensive student demonstration, conducted on Sep.
29, 1995, revealed that Chosun devoted almost the same amount of space (7
paragraphs) to aspects of the street demonstrations as did Hankyoreh (9
paragraphs), but that its treatment of the nonviolent class-boycotting campaign
showed a clear difference (1 vs. 10 paragraphs). Such findings indicate that
while Chosun covered dissident groups marginally, when it did, it was more
likely to focus on conflict-driven aspects at the expense of other
Societal opinion leaders were treated less often in Chosun (59 stories) than
in Hankyoreh (81 stories). When they were covered, Hankyoreh provided more
detailed account (4.4 vs. 2.4 average paragraphs per story). The two papers'
reportage of these societal opinion leaders will be addressed in detail later.
The opinion climate, most invisible in both newspapers, was that supportive of
the governmental decision. The striking silence of pro-governmental activities
may be due partly to the government's strategy not to provoke public's further
anger. The two papers covered the opinion climate supporting the prosecution in
similar ways. Both papers presented 17 stories; the average number of paragraphs
per story was 2.2 for Chosun and 2.9 for Hankyoreh.
The Influence of Societal Opinion Leaders
Several macro incidents observed after the Korea univ. professors' public
announcement of their critical stances seem to document the importance and
possible influence of societal opinion leaders. Those are (1) the National
Organization for Indicting the Ex-Presidents, the main organization of dissident
groups in the Kwangju case, began its petition campaign on Aug. 6, 1995,
following the professors' action; (2) the number of people participating in
street demonstrations, based on Hankyoreh's stories, increased from 3,000-4,000
between July 23-29, to 8,000 on Aug. 17, and to 13,000 on Oct. 1 (these are
figures on comparable demonstrations organized by the same group and staged in
the same location); (3) various societal opinion leaders such as other
professors, secondary school teachers, and priests, among others, followed the
professors' lead; (4) finally, societal opinion leaders might have had an impact
on routinized critical groups' activities, which was indexed by the reported
frequencies of these groups' public activities.
As shown in Figure 1, after passing the initial stage of strong reaction,
routinized critical groups' public activities appeared to fade considerably. For
six weeks between early August to mid-September, activities of dissident groups
were sparse; those of oppositional parties were almost invisible. However, both
groups' critical activities became clearly viable from mid-September. How can
one explain this dramatic turnaround of these groups' critical activities?
The activities of societal opinion leaders may provide one answer. As seen in
Figure 1, societal opinion leaders are the only group whose critical activities
became more frequent after the initial stage. Between early August and to
mid-September, the very period when routinized groups' critical voices were
faint, societal opinion leaders at least maintained their initial level of
critical position against the governmental decision.
Societal opinion leaders' public activities during this pivotal period probably
strengthened the climate opinion critical of the government's decision, thereby
helping routinized critical groups perceive social support for their views,
certainty of their opinions, and obligation to continue their activities.
Societal opinion groups' position in opinion leadership in society might
contribute to making their public action considerably important, revitalizing
activities of routinized critical groups.
Coverage of Societal Opinion Leaders
Above discussion demonstrated that societal opinion leaders' influence on
critical activities in society is plausible and important. Also, the findings in
Table 2 indicate that societal opinion leaders were most extensively reported
among various groups covered in the polling content. In terms of the number of
paragraphs, 41% and 44% of the total polling content in Chosun (141 / 344) and
Hankyoreh (354 / 813), respectively, concerned these opinion leaders. Then, it
may be necessary to analyze two newspapers with a closer look in terms of their
treatment of the societal opinion leaders. For this purpose, this study selected
five events related to societal opinion leaders.
The first event was the public announcement made by professors at Korea
university who initiated the active role of the professorship, and the second
one was Confucian scholars' critical announcement on the issue of Kwangju,
scholars who were perceived as concentrating on moral philosophy, yet keeping
their distance from politics. The Korean Lawyers' Association's campaign to sign
a petition to indict the ex-presidents may have been a significant factor in
public opinion formation, since it was the first campaign by lawyers as a group
in modern Korean history. Also, the voluntary submission of legal opinions to
the Constitutional Court, emphasizing the unconstitutionality of the
prosecution's decision and the inapplicability of the statutory limitation on
the Kwangju rebellion case, by 111 professors at 39 prominent law schools was
significant, since it was the official opinion of a group of specialists in
constitutional law (the prosecution had insisted that the legal logic regarding
the successful rebellion's unindictability, the basis of its decision, was
overwhelmingly shared among constitutional law specialists). Finally, medical
doctors joined other societal groups who challenged the governmental view. This
was also significant because they were the symbol of the affluent and
pro-status quo class in Korea.
Two aspects of the newspapers were compared: the extent of detailed
coverage, and the extent of contextualization of the five events. As the
findings indicated, except for the cases of professors at Korea Univ. and the
lawyers' association, Chosun allocated significantly less space to these events.
For these latter events, Chosun presented 6 - 50% of what Hankyoreh did.
The manner in which each paper contextualized these events is probably even
more important: Was each event presented in a political and historical context,
or as an isolated phenomenon (Bennett, 1988) ? Both Hankyoreh and Chosun
emphasized the lawyers' organization's petition campaign as the first one in
Korean history and as having a significant political implication. However, when
covering other events, Chosun failed to place them in a relevant context.
Hankyoreh, however, provided contextual information concerning the positions and
seniority of announcement participants in the cases of the Korean university
professors, Confucian scholars, and medical doctors, thereby adding legitimacy
to the views represented by each group. Also, Hankyoreh reported an extensive
summary of the announcement content when covering the Confucian scholars and law
professors, thereby presenting these voices more clearly.
In sum, focusing on the two papers' mediated representation of societal opinion
leaders, we may conclude that Hankyoreh presented a climate of opinion assuring
the public's critical opinions and encouraging activities to actualize their
opinions (e.g., signing a petition).
This study investigated mainstream and alternative newspapers' coverage of a
political instance in Korea, assuming that public opinion formation is
significantly influenced by situational factors, one of which is the media. Two
media functions in the public opinion process were differentiated and analyzed:
reporting and polling. Reporting function concerns the media's presentation of
an issue's historical context, its ongoing process, and inter-related subjects
through editorials and columns; the investigation of such reporting content,
this study assumed, may shed light on the media's contribution to quality
attributes of public opinion, i.e., knowledge level, consistency over time, and
organized understanding of related issues. Polling function refers to the
media's coverage of the social actors' various reactions to an issue: public
announcement of views, interviews, conferences, and protests. The polling
function was considered important in public opinion process, because it may have
significant consequences for people's commitment to their views (i.e., intensity
of public opinion). In particular, the activities of the societal opinion
leaders, credible and unroutinized source of critical opinion leadership, and
the media's coverage of them were deemed important, because their public action
might have empowered critical public opinion, by enhancing public's perceived
certainty of views and behavioral inclination to actualize their opinions.
Consequently, the extent to which each newspaper met the expectations of
reporting and polling functions, this paper assumed, may indicate how they
contributed to public's informed participation in political domain.
The content analysis conducted in this paper showed a clear difference
between mainstream and alternative media. While the two papers covered such
aspects as legal proceedings of the case and reactions of political parties,
both ruling and oppositional, in a similar manner, Hankyoreh, an alternative
newspaper, appeared to be a better source for obtaining contextual information
of the incident, maintaining critical opinions over time, and understanding
related issues in a coherent way; the critical climate of opinion led by
dissident groups and societal opinion leaders appeared stronger in Hankyoreh.
Thus, quality and intensity of public opinion regarding the Kwangju case may
have been enhanced more significantly for Hankyoreh readers than Chosun readers.
The two newspapers were clearly differentiated in their reporting function in
presenting various related issues. Chosun played no role in helping people form
a coherent understanding of related issues, on the basis of the opinion
organization thesis (see, Table 1). This does not mean there was not a single
article concerning the four issues investigated in the paper during the entire
period of interest. Properly speaking, this content was delivered to people
through the voices and activities of groups and people in society (i.e., polling
contents). However, if we assume that developing a coherent connection among
issues necessitates a great amount of reasoning and information, this should be
the area in which the media's systematic and logical treatment of issues (i.e.,
by reporting function through editorials, staff columns and news analyses) is
Regarding whether Hankyoreh, the alternative newspaper, had a significant
impact on public opinion, as expected in this paper, the findings were less
than conclusive. Newspapers are only a part of the media environment. News
content itself does not reveal how intensively it is read. Thus, the effects on
the audience need to be addressed by an investigation based on actual survey
research. However, some points discussed as distinctive differences between the
two papers' contents, which were assumed to have a close relationship with
public opinion formation, may be a good point of departure in investigating the
differential effects of the two types of media.
The role of societal opinion leaders in the public opinion process regarding
the Kwangju case was indirectly assessed by examining several content categories
such as the activities of unroutinized groups (i.e., dissident groups and
oppositional parties), the number of participants in demonstrations, and the
public expressions of various societal opinion leaders. The findings were in the
expected direction; reportedly, the intensity of critical activities by public
and routinized critical groups increased in sequential to the societal opinion
leaders' activities. These findings, reflected in the media coverage, suggest
that the societal opinion leaders might have boosted the critical public to be
active participants in the Kwangju case.
These observations have a significant relevance to the spiral of silence theory
(Lasorsa, 1991; Noelle-Neumann, 1993) at a macro level. That is, the supportive
opinion climate driven by the societal opinion leaders may have helped the
public, dissident groups, and oppositional parties to feel greater social
support (i.e., less fear of isolation), become more confident in the correctness
of their opinions, and have positive prospect for their side (i.e., indictment
of those accused), all of which induced the upward spiraling process of their
political speaking-out. The re-emergence of once-muted-critical activities by
oppositional parties and dissident groups, which followed the societal opinion
leaders' lead (see Figure 1), corresponds to one central element of the theory,
the dynamic spiraling process of speaking-out at the macrosocial level.
The importance of mediated opinion leadership in the Kwangju case corresponds
to the idea of shared responsibilities concerning political problems in society.
Some researchers have argued that the media cannot be the exclusive focus for
cause and responsibility for various political problems; rather, various
institutions in society, such as political actors, community organizations, and
schools, should share responsibilities (McLeod, 1993).
The over-time trends in reporting and polling content indicate the limitation
of the media and the importance of shared responsibility. As seen in Figures 2,
as time proceeded, the amount of reporting content decreased, while that of
polling content increased. Thus, except for the several days after the
prosecution announced its decision not to indict those accused, news stories
became gradually filled with polling content. From September on, the slope
indicating the number of polling stories was positive and steep, while that of
reporting stories was almost flat. Coverage rate, an index representing the
relative amount of reporting content compared to that of polling content on a
100 percent scale, as seen in Figure 3, also shows the over-time comparison
between the two types of content. During the first two weeks, the reporting
content was covered almost one and a half times as frequently as polling content
in terms of the number of stories; in terms of the total length, the reporting
content was three times as much. However, from September, reporting content
never reached 25% of polling content in terms of both frequency and length.
What this trend indicates is that the media's reporting role alone, as defined
in this paper, may not be able to sustain a given issue for an extended time,
without support from the polling content. The over-time trend, the shift of
media function from reporting to polling during the course of extended coverage,
may demonstrate an inherent limitation of the media. They may not be capable of
delivering such coverage as editorials, analyses, and columns on their own
indefinitely. There must be various kinds of organizational and situational
factors that hinder the media's "self-determined" coverage.
In the case of Kwangju, for the media to cause political controversies to be
debated and questioned in society and to lead policy changes in the direction of
public opinion, they needed opinion leaders who were willing to back public
opinion publicly. In the Kwangju case, the existence of sampling pool from the
societal opinion leaders enabled the media to fulfill the polling function. As a
consequence, societal opinion leaders and the media were found to respond to the
shared responsibility thesis in informing and guiding public opinion.
On Aug. 26, 1996, the Korean public saw those involved in Kwangju and other
related political incidents sentenced by the court. However, whether public
opinion demanding change in governmental policy, i.e., indictment of the
ex-presidents, was directly converted into policy-making is a question, rather
than an answer, until the specific process of decision-making is investigated.
Without any question, other political events such as the revelation of one
ex-president's slush fund, President Kim's untold political plot, the immediacy
of the general election scheduled in April, 1996, or other factors must have
been considered in the process of reviewing policy decisions. However, even
though public opinion may be not a bullet succinctly hitting a specific policy
target, it is a broad force that sets the scene, at least in the case of Kwangju
in Korea. In this sense, societal opinion leaders, the media, and the
public--including one million people who signed a petition-- in the pubic
opinion process may receive credit in this political case.
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Two Newspapers' Reporting Content and Quality of Public Opinion
Reporting Contents Of The Newspapers
Context of the Kwangju incident
Proceedings by the prosecution
Proceedings by the victims
Criticisms of the prosecution's decision
Criticisms of the investigation's incompleteness
Issues concerning those currently in the military
Issues concerning false testimony
Issues concerning a special law and prosecutor
Some legal issues (the Constitutional Court, etc.)
1. the numbers outside the parentheses are the number of stories for each
2. the numbers in parentheses are the number of paragraphs for each category.
Two Newspapers' Polling Content and Intensity of Public Opinion
Polling Content of The Newspapers
Routinized critical groups
Societal Opinion Leaders
Professors, priests, lawyers, etc.
Total of critical groups
Ruling party and those accused
1. the numbers outside the parentheses are the number of stories for each
2. the numbers in parentheses are the number of paragraphs for each category.
Two Newspapers' Coverage of Five Events of Societal Opinion Leaders
# of paragraphs
Opinion announcement of professors at Korea Univ.
information on positions and seniority of participants
Confucian scholars' opinion announcement
information on leadership participation; summary of announcement
Petition campaign by the National Organization of Lawyers
information of the event as the first one in Korea history
information of the event as the first one in Korean history
Law professors' legal opinion submission to the Constitutional Court
summary of legal opinion
Medical doctors' opinion announcement
information of positions and seniority of participants
(Note) 1. * Chosun reported this story on Oct. 18.
 As in typical political issues, the Kwangju incident is intertwined with
various other political matters. In mid-October, 1996, a slush fund scandal
involving the ex-presidents, who had been held accountable in the Kwangju
incident, broke out. Thereafter, the Kwangju incident and the slush fund scandal
progressed as closely related matters; to distinguish between these two issues
became practically impossible in newspaper coverage as well as in public
opinion. Thus, the dates for sampling were chosen to minimize such complexity:
papers published before the slush fund issue was raised were collected.
 A story may have multiple categories of contents (these categories will be
discussed later). In coding these stories, one story was counted as many times
as the number of categories. However, in virtually every case, a paragraph had
only one category; thus, the number of paragraphs, not stories, reported in this
paper reflects the actual amount of coverage. By dividing the number of
paragraphs in each category by the number of stories in that category, we can
identify the average amount of coverage, given the content category of interest.
 The operationalization of opinion consistency may seem to be incongruent
with the normative view of opinion diversity, because stories supporting the
prosecution's decision are here understood as hindering people's opinion
consistency (and as undesirable), rather than as providing diverse viewpoints.
However, in this particular political incident, public opinion was
overwhelmingly critical of the governmental decision from the beginning, and the
media as an important institution for public opinion formation were expected to
provide a sound basis that would help the public maintain /mature critical
opinions. Thus, in relation to the prosecution's decision, a criterion for
evaluating news stories may not be whether a newspaper presented balanced
analyses of the prosecution's decision. Rather, what matters may be the extent
to which a newspaper extensively analyzed various problems in the prosecution's
decision. In fact, in the two newspapers, there was not a single story
supportive of the prosecution's decision, other than stories originating from
the accused and the ruling party. Articles included in the category of opinion
consistency concerned each paper's own analyses of the decision (e.g.,
editorials and staff columns), and reports on various groups' reactions to the
decision belong to polling content, which will be discussed later. Thus, it can
be stated that there was no reporting content supporting the prosecution's
decision, which may reflect the discourse in the society and among the public.
 The figures reported in this section are subject to change depending upon
the re-analyses of Chosun's contents. This is because, at the time when this
paper was submitted, there were several missing papers for the dates this paper
investigated. Those papers are being collected. When reporting results in this
paper, for the missing Chosun cases, the number of stories and paragraphs that
correspond to the overall relative rate of Chosun content in each category,
compared to Hankyoreh's, was substituted. For example, on Jul. 24, while Chosun
is missing, Hankyoreh reported 1 stories and 13 paragraphs regarding the
incompleteness of the prosecution's investigation. When two papers are compared
on the basis of content concerning this category, overall, Chosun reported 47.3
% of what Hankyoreh did in terms of the number of paragraphs; the number of
stories covered by the two papers were the same. Thus, 1 story and 6 paragraphs
were substituted for the missing case. Those estimations will be replaced with
actual data when they are available. However, the revision will turn out to
support the conclusions and implications presented in this paper.