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South Korea: A Literate Society Devours the News

S. Jim Kim
WPR Correspondent

South Koreans get their news primarily from daily newspapers. They depend on them also for news analyses. They supplement them with television news from 9 to 10 in the evening. People listen to radio news on their commute, stuck in their cars in hours-long traffic jams, mornings and evenings.

Weekly papers and weekly and monthly magazines are used as entertainment media, as is television.

The country has 10 national dailies in scandalous wars of circulations in the millions. In addition, 100 free dailies, 314 specialized dailies, 1,999 weeklies, 2,319 monthlies, and 1,245 other periodicals shriek headlines. All newspapers print 48-56 pages for advertising space.

The state-owned KBS, private MBC, and SBS are national networks. Some 20 regional and cable networks serve special markets. TV stations engage in intense and cutthroat competition, as do newspapers.

The Washington Post once said Korea “opened the champagne bottle too soon” when it boasted consumer-society extravagance during the last Cold War-era Olympics, in Seoul in 1988. Yet Koreans are perplexed by the question as to whether they can “afford to buy” print media. The 47-million populace devours newspapers. Each household gets two to three national dailies and one local paper, if they live outside the capital, Seoul. The country has few rural hinterlands.

This is a reading society, as are all Northeast Asian countries. Both Koreas have virtually 100-percent literacy, owing to their 24-character phonetic alphabet, Hangul.

Koreans’ media use far exceeds the UNESCO minima that separate “developed” and “developing” nations. Every household has one or two TV sets. Some 35 percent of families own two or three cellular phones as a life necessity.

The current North-South thaw has only added to the frenzy for the news.


December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline OverlineHeadline Headline Headline HeadlineName
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