Photo: Members of the Korea Construction Workers' Union protest against Chosun Ilbo's false coverage. Credit: Korea Construction Workers' Union.
South Korea’s largest conservative newspaper, Chosun Ilbo 조선일보, once again drew ire this week with a blatantly false and sensationalistic article. In his May 17, journalist Choi Hun-min 최훈민 claimed that when the labor union official Yang Hoe-dong 양회동 committed suicide by self-immolation in protest of Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration’s prosecution of union activities, a fellow union official simply stood watching as the official poured kerosene over himself and lit himself on fire.
The police immediately confirmed the story as false, stating that the union official was attempting to persuade Yang from killing himself. The police also said Choi never contacted the police to verify his claims. Choi’s claim against the union official was so inflammatory that the National Union of Media Workers 전국언론노동조합 issued a statement condemning Chosun Ilbo: “Chosun Ilbo Group acted against the principles of journalism, instigating hatred with no objective basis or evidence other than the writer’s suspicion.” Angered by the coverage, more than 24k members of the Korea Construction Workers’ Union 전국건설노동조합, for which Yang served as an official, held a two-day demonstration in downtown Seoul.
Choi Hun-min has an illustrious career of questionable journalistic practice, including stalking former Justice Minister Cho Kuk 조국 전 법무부장관’s daughter to her residence and leaking confidential police investigative files to attack a whistleblower against Yoon - for which Choi is facing criminal charges. Choi’s antics are enabled by the peculiar corporate structure of Chosun Ilbo, which outsources its most sensationalistic coverage to shield itself from legal liabilities.
Although Choi Hun-min’s articles appear in the Chosun Ilbo, Choi is not employed by the paper. Instead, Choi is employed by Chosun NS 조선NS (for “New Service”), a corporate affiliate. With around ten journalists, Chosun NS has four teams that monitor the internet around the clock for the latest buzz, and publish low-information articles that are little more than quoting tweets and memes that go viral, or tendentious, thinly sourced partisan coverage.
Chosun NS is not registered as a news organization, and does not print any newspaper nor does it maintain a website. Because Chosun NS is not officially a news outlet, its employees are not bound by legal restrictions or structures designed to prevent abuse, such as the law prohibiting bribes to journalists or the Press Arbitration Committee 언론중재위원회 that penalizes false or defamatory reports.
Despite its dubious ethics, Chosun NS appears to be good business for Chosun Ilbo: On a typical day, more than 50% of the articles on the online version of Chosun Ilbo are from Chosun NS. In February of this year, Chosun Ilbo touted the success of Chosun NS in an internal memo, crediting its affiliate for driving up daily traffic by 39.8% and boosting pageviews by nearly 50%.