How Samsung Rolled the Media to Get Its Scion Released from Prison

The media built up the public pressure to push the government to parole Lee Jae-yong.

How Samsung Rolled the Media to Get Its Scion Released from Prison

Photo: Samsung headquarters.  Credit: Samsung.

On August 13, Lee Jae-yong 이재용, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics 삼성전자 and the de facto leader of the Samsung Group, left the Seoul Detention Center 서울구치소 on parole. Lee served 207 days out of the 2.5 year prison sentence he received on January 18, for paying bribes to the confidant of the former president Park Geun-hye 박근혜. President Moon Jae-in 문재인 said the parole was “a choice for the national interest,” saying Lee’s presence at his company was necessary for the national economy, particularly in semiconductor production and COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

A report by KBS News showed how Samsung-friendly media gradually built up the public relations campaign to pressure the government into paroling Lee. With its massive advertisement budget, the Samsung Group has long steered the direction of South Korea’s media coverage. An investigative report in 2017 revealed that virtually all major media outlets - including JoongAng Ilbo 중앙일보, Hankyoreh 한겨레, Yonhap News 연합뉴스 and Maeil Economy 매일경제 - constantly communicated with Samsung’s management, pushing the chaebol group’s agenda and penalizing journalists who covered the company negatively.

According to the KBS report, the media outlets cast Lee Jae-yong as the victim of the Park Geun-hye scandal (which led to her impeachment and removal,) as Lee was painted as only responding to Park's demand for bribes. The media also would push overwrought stories of how Lee’s absence hurts Samsung’s performance, burnished Samsung’s image by promoting the Lee family’s art donation, and manufactured tendentious opinion polls that purported to show as much as 60% of the public supporting Lee’s release from prison. (See previous coverage, “Public Split on Lee’s Prison Term.”)

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