Image: Naver News homepage. Credit: Naver.
In its first year, the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration and its conservative allies spent much of its time attacking liberal-leaning media outlets offering critical coverage of the administration. (See previous coverage, “MBC News Under Attack” and “City Hall Shuts Down TBS”.) With the all-important Assembly Election 총선 less than a year away, the People Power Party 국민의힘 has moved onto the next logical target: news portal sites. In South Korea’s media environment, news aggregators like Naver 네이버 and Daum Kakao 다음카카오 play a role no less important than media outlets in determining which news articles receive broad public exposure.
The outsize importance of portal sites in a media environment has been well-documented globally. In the United States, for example, the power of a social media site like Facebook to direct or divert crucial traffic to a news outlet with its algorithm, or to promote inflammatory and thinly sourced articles has become a matter of significant debate. The PPP has appropriated this debate with its criticism of portal sites, as it gestures toward portal sites’ dominance in the media market.
But conservatives’ complaints about anti-competitive behavior are a fig leaf covering nakedly partisan aims. In light of Yoon’s deep unpopularity, the stories about Yoon on portal sites have been uniformly bad - and the PPP does not like that. PPP Assembly Member Park Dae-chul 박대출, chairman of PPP’s Policy Committee 정책위원장, said on May 9: “When you search for ‘Yoon Suk-yeol’ on Naver, all you see is articles criticizing the president. Naver News needs to be reformed,” adding: “It would be a miracle if the public had an objective view about President Yoon, who is just one year into his presidency, when they see nothing but a wall of critical articles.”
PPP’s Director General Lee Cheol-gyu 이철규 국민의힘 사무총장 claimed that Naver must be tinkering with its algorithm to attack the president: “Absent manipulation, it’s not possible for the top search results for ‘Yoon Suk-yeol’ to include criticism from people like Ahn Cheol-su 안철수 and Yu Seung-min 유승민[,]” who are heavyweight conservative politicians.