Asia - Pacific
South Korea
Index 2024
62/ 180
Score : 64.87
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator
Index 2023
47/ 180
Score : 70.83
Political indicator
Economic indicator
Legislative indicator
Social indicator
Security indicator

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a liberal democracy that respects media freedom and pluralism. However, tradition and business interests often prevent journalists from fulfilling their role as watchdogs, and populist political tendencies stoke hatred of journalists.

Media landscape

South Korea has a rich media landscape with more than 47 broadcasters and 220 daily newspapers. The main national newspapers are Chosun IlboKorea JoongAng DailyDong-a (conservative), HankyorehKyunghyang Shinmun (liberal), and Hankook Ilbo (centrist). Although television remains popular, in recent years the Internet has become the main source of information. Many Internet users get their news from web portals such as  Naver, while video platforms such as YouTube are becoming increasingly popular.

Political context

Since the country’s democratisation in the late 1980s, political actors have largely respected freedom of the press. However, the political polarisation means that media outlets considered to be “not on our side” are taken to task. In 2021, the then-ruling Minjoo Party pushed through the controversial law against disinformation before it was scrapped following international criticism. In 2022, the current ruling People Power Party sued journalists working for the public broadcaster for defaming President Yoon Suk-yeol. Regulations give the government the upper hand in the appointment of public broadcasters’ upper management, which can pose a threat to their editorial independence. According to the latest survey by the Journalist Association of Korea (JAK), more than half of journalists expressed concerns about the decline in media freedom under the current administration.

Legal framework

South Korean legislation on freedom of information meets international standards, but defamation is still, in theory, punishable by up to seven years in prison, which can lead media outlets to omit key details in certain articles, such as the names of individuals and companies. Journalists accused of violating the National Security Act for disseminating sensitive information, particularly about North Korea, face up to seven years in prison.

Economic context

Although South Korean reporters benefit from a relatively independent editorial environment, their company’s revenue depends heavily on advertising, which can influence their editorial line. A 2021 Korea Press Foundation (KPF) survey found that more than 60% of journalists viewed advertisers as a threat to press freedom. The acquisition of a growing number of media outlets by companies from other industries – especially the construction sector – also poses a risk of conflict of interest. 

Sociocultural context

South Korean news outlets face pressure from politicians, government officials and business conglomerates. According to a 2020 analysis by the Korean Press Arbitration Commission, media-related disputes have steadily increased over the past decade. According to a 2018 report from the Korea Press Foundation (KPF), out of 301 journalists surveyed, 27.6% said they had already been sued for their reporting, in particular for '”defamation” (78.3%). Nearly a third of the plaintiffs are politicians and high-ranking civil servants (29%).


While journalists can work in generally satisfactory conditions, they are sometimes victims of online harassment, a practice against which they have little protection. About 30% of the journalists who took part in the 2023 Korea Press Foundation survey said they have been victims of harassment in relation to their profession. The most prominent form of harassment was via phone calls, text messages and emails, while comments from Internet “trolls” and malicious legal actions were also prevalent. More than 40% of harassed journalists said they didn’t receive adequate support from their employers, indicating a need for legal support.