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South Koreans deeply distrustful of domestic media, Pew finds

Global study ties satisfaction with government, economy to media approval rate

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends his New Year's news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.   © Reuters

NEW YORK -- South Koreans have little faith in their nation's news media, particularly in the media's ability to provide fair coverage, a sentiment that contrasts with the broader support expressed in the U.S. and Japan, a new Pew Research study shows.

Pew found that just 27% of South Koreans believed their country's media covered political issues fairly, with a similarly paltry 36% viewing their news reports as accurate. The survey was conducted in early February and March 2017, during the impeachment trial of then-President Park Geun-hye, who was ousted in March over a corruption scandal.

South Korea and Greece were the only nations among the 38 surveyed in which fewer than one-third of respondents rated domestic media coverage as fair.

In contrast, 47% of U.S. respondents, who saw the inauguration of President Donald Trump last year, found political coverage fair, and 56% thought the news was accurate. Such figures also were higher in Japan, reaching 55% for fairness and 65% for accuracy.

"Across countries we see that satisfaction with the news media is closely related to satisfaction with country conditions more broadly," Katie Simmons, Pew associate director of research, told the Nikkei Asian Review. "In places where people are dissatisfied with their government or dissatisfied with their economy, they also tend to be dissatisfied or less satisfied with how their news media is performing."

South Korea provides a sharp illustration, Simmons noted.

"Globally, we find that about half of people say they trust their national government to do what's right, and in South Korea it was just 23% who said that," she said. "I think one of the interesting things about South Korea -- and this is a pattern we see elsewhere -- they were particularly unhappy with their news media about its coverage of the government, as well as if it was covering political issues fairly."

South Koreans are also avid consumers of digital media, with 80% saying they get news from the internet at least once a day. Moreover, 57% reported using social media sites as a news source at least once daily, including 45% of those 50 or older. This far exceeds the global median, in which fewer than one-quarter of those 50 or older obtain news from social media sites.

"Consistently, South Korea is among the highest in terms of internet access, owning a smartphone and going online and using social media," Simmons said. "And so they just really are very high in terms of their tech access."

Pew found no significant correlation globally between digital media consumption patterns and satisfaction with the media, but the survey did note a link in a few countries. In Asia, high consumption in South Korea and Japan was linked to negative satisfaction with the media, while digital media consumption in India held a positive link to media satisfaction, Simmons noted.

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