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Censorship in South Korea

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Title: Censorship in South Korea  
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Censorship in South Korea

Censorship in South Korea is limited by laws that provide for freedom of speech and the press which the government generally respects in practice. Under the National Security Law, the government may limit the expression of ideas that praise or incite the activities of antistate individuals or groups.[1]

South Korea has one of the freest media environments in Asia, ranking ahead of Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore in the Press Freedom Index.

However, since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008, South Korea has experienced a noticeable decline in freedom of expression for both journalists and the general public.[2] South Korea's status in the 2011 Freedom of the Press report from Freedom House declined from "Free" to "Partly Free" reflecting an increase in official censorship and government attempts to influence news and information content.[3]


  • Subject matter and agenda 1
    • Speech and the press 1.1
    • Public libraries 1.2
    • Military 1.3
    • Education 1.4
    • Internet 1.5
    • Music 1.6
    • Broadcasting 1.7
    • Films 1.8
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Subject matter and agenda

Speech and the press

There is an active independent media that expresses a wide variety of views, generally without restriction. Under the National Security Law, the government may limit the expression of ideas that praise or incite the activities of antistate individuals or groups. The law forbids citizens from reading books published in North Korea.[1]

On March 21, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression issued a report on his May 2010 visit to South Korea. While laudatory of progress made, the report also expressed concern about increased restrictions on freedom of expression and specifically cited as concerns laws broadly making defamation a crime (which the rapporteur labeled as “…inherently harsh and [having a] disproportionate chilling effect…”) and providing the potential for controlling the dissemination of election or candidate information and banning books.

Public libraries

South Korea's public libraries censor a plethora of subjects in their libraries - both online and in their physical collections. Examples of censored topics include: sexuality (including educational information about the subject), homosexuality, information about North Korea, violence, anti-government materials, and political discourse.[4]

The public libraries of South Korea also censor information via discriminating against who can use the library's public meeting spaces. If a person or group wants to use the space to meet to discuss any of the forbidden topics listed above, they are refused.


The Constitutional Court of Korea upheld the Ministry of National Defense's order to allow the banning of certain books such as Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans and Hans-Peter Martin's The Global Trap from soldiers' hands on October 2010, despite a petition made by a group of military judicial officers protesting against the order in 2008.[5]

The South Korean military cracked down on soldiers who have "critical apps" installed in their smartphones; allegedly marking the famous South Korean podcast, Naneun Ggomsuda, as anti-government content.[6][7]


On 15 February 2011, a Handong Global University professor was penalized for criticizing Lee Myung-bak and the university chancellor.[8]


The nation of South Korea is a world leader in Internet and broadband penetration, but its citizens do not have access to free and unfiltered Internet. South Korea’s government maintains a broad-ranging approach toward the regulation of specific online content and imposes a substantial level of censorship on election-related discourse and on a large number of websites that the government deems subversive or socially harmful.[9] Such policies are particularly pronounced with regard to anonymity on the Internet.

In 2011 the OpenNet Initiative classified Internet censorship in South Korea as pervasive in the conflict/security area, as selective in the social area, and found no evidence of filtering in the political or Internet tools areas.[9] In 2011 South Korea was included on Reporters Without Borders list of countries Under Surveillance.[10] The Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized the Korea Communications Standards Commission for proposing censorship of the blog of an internet free speech activist.[11][12]

In September 2004, North Korea launched the Kim Il-sung Open University website. Also, South Korea has banned at least 31 sites considered sympathetic to North Korea through the use of IP blocking.[13] A man who praised North Korea on Twitter was arrested.[14]

In 2007, numerous bloggers were censored, arrested, and their posts deleted by police for expressing criticism of, or even support for, certain presidential candidates.[15] Subsequently in 2008, just before a new presidential election, new legislation that required all major internet portal sites to require identity verification of their users was put into effect.[16]

"Indecent" websites, such as those offering unrated games, any kind of pornography (not only child pornography), and gambling, are also blocked. Attempts to access these sites are automatically redirected to the warning page showing "This site is legally blocked by the government regulations."[17] Search engines are required to verify age for some keywords deemed "inappropriate" for minors.[18]


In November 2010, a woman was sentenced to two years in prison for the possession of MP3s of instrumental music, on the grounds that the titles constituted praise of North Korea, notwithstanding the actual music's lack of lyrics.[19]

Songs that "stimulates sex desire or [are] sexually explicit to youth", "urges violence or crime to youth", or "glamorizes violence such as rape, and drugs" are classified as a "medium offensive to youth" by the Government Youth Commission.


The Korea Communications Commission is a government agency that regulates TV, radio, and the Internet within South Korea. The National Security Law forbids citizens from listening to North Korean radio programs in their homes if the government determines that the action endangers national security or the basic order of democracy. These prohibitions are rarely enforced and viewing North Korean satellite telecasts in private homes is legal.[1]

The Lee Myung-bak government has been accused of extending its influence over the broadcast media by appointing former presidential aides and advisers to key positions at major media companies over the objections of journalists who sought to maintain those broadcasters’ editorial independence. Under the Lee administration, approximately 160 journalists have been penalized for writing critical reports about government policies.[3]

Protests among workers in Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, Korean Broadcasting System, and YTN in early 2012 have raised concerns about the biased pro-Lee Myung-bak government media practices, such as the ongoing usage of censorship, to the South Korean public.[20][21]

Censorship of Japanese media in South Korea has been relaxed significantly since the 1990s, but as of 2012 the terrestrial broadcast of Japanese television or music remains illegal.


Film censorship in South Korea can be split into two major periods, the period of dictatorships and the period of heavy surveillance by the new military regime.[22]

According to the Internet Movie Database, there are no currently-banned films in South Korea.[23]

In recent years, sexual scenes have been a major issue that pits filmmakers against the Korea Media Rating Board. Pubic hair and male or female genitalia are disallowed on the screen, unless they are digitally blurred. In rare cases extreme violence, obscene language, or certain portrayals of drug use may also be an issue. Korea has a five level rating systems; G (all), PG-12 (12-year+), PG-15 (15-year+), PG-18 (18-year+), and Restricted.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Republic of Korea", Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
  2. ^ "Korea Policing the Net. Twist? It’s South Korea", Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, 12 August 2012
  3. ^ a b "South Korea", Freedom of the Press 2011, Freedom House
  4. ^ Lange, D. (2013). "The Republic of Korea's Public Libraries: A Critical Examination of Censorship Practices".
  5. ^ Kim, Eun-jung (2010-10-28). "Constitutional Court upholds ban on 'seditious books' in military". Yonhap News. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  6. ^ "Army unit orders 'pro-N. Korea' apps be deleted, inspects individual phones". Yonhap News. 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  7. ^ Kim, Young-jin (2012-02-06). "Army units cracking down on anti-Lee phone apps". Korea Times. Retrieved 2012-02-08. 
  8. ^ Kim (김), Se-hun (세훈) (2011-02-16). "비판교수 재갈물리기?"…한동대, 정부 비난 교수 징계 논란. NoCut News (in Korean). Retrieved 2011-03-12. 
  9. ^ a b OpenNet Initiative "Summarized global Internet filtering data spreadsheet", 8 November 2011 and "Country Profiles", the OpenNet Initiative is a collaborative partnership of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group, Ottawa
  10. ^ "Countries under surveillance: South Korea", Reporters Without Borders, 12 March 2011
  11. ^ York, Jillian; Rainey Reitman (2011-09-06). "In South Korea, the Only Thing Worse Than Online Censorship is Secret Online Censorship". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  12. ^ Lee (이), Jeong-hwan (정환) (2011-09-08). """EFF "방통심의위는 박경신 탄압 중단하라. MediaToday (in Korean). Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  13. ^ Christian Oliver (1 April 2010). "Sinking underlines South Korean view of state as monster". London: Financial Times. Retrieved 2 April 2010. 
  14. ^ Kim, Eun-jung (2011-01-10). "S. Korean man indicted for pro-Pyongyang postings on Internet, Twitter". Yonhap News. Retrieved 2011-03-11. 
  15. ^ "Tough content rules mute Internet election activity in current contest: Bloggers risk arrest for controversial comments". JoongAng Daily. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2007. 
  16. ^ "Do new Internet regulations curb free speech?", Kim Hyung-eun, Korea JoongAng Daily, 13 August 2008
  17. ^ Automatic redirect to KCSC Warning
  18. ^ "Searching For An Adult Topic? You’ll Have To Prove Your Age To Google Korea", Search Engine Land, 17 May 2007
  19. ^ "S.Korea court rules pro-North music breaches law". Agence France-Presse. 2010-11-09. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  20. ^ Yoo Eun, Lee (2012-03-08). "South Korea: Journalists Stage Mass Walkout from National Broadcaster". Global Voices Online. Retrieved 2012-03-21. 
  21. ^ Lee, Yoo Eun (2012-03-21). "South Korea: Three Major TV Stations Protest for Fair Journalism". Global Voices Online. Retrieved 2012-03-21. 
  22. ^ "Introduction". Korean Film Council, 2006. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  23. ^ "List of banned films in South Korea". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 
  24. ^ "Statistics", Korea Media Rating Board, 2010, accessed 11 August 2012
  25. ^ "Censorship Issues in Korean Cinema, 1995-2002", Darcy Paquet, 3 December 2002

External links

  • Red Still Best Kept Under the Bed by Jiyeon Lee, GlobalPost, April 23, 2009
  • Is Internet Censorship Compatible with Democracy?: Legal Restrictions of Online Speech in South Korea by Eric Fish, October 31, 2009
  • Collateral Blocking: Filtering by South Korean Government of Pro-North Korean Websites, OpenNet Initiative Bulletin 9, 31 January 2005
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