History has proven that North Korea does not get along with conservative governments in South Korea. The fact that North Korea’s state-run and propaganda media outlets have constantly criticized the South’s conservative governments, parties, and figures is a good example.
What North Korean media criticize varies with time, but the topic of the day often a good barometer for gauging what Pyongyang is interested in, or what it is worrying about.
In recent months, North Korea’s state media outlets have picked a new topic a focus on: the use of YouTube by South Korea’s conservative parties and well-known figures.
YouTube provides an alternative channel for people around the world who seek information that they struggle to find within traditional media. This desire for alternative news sources means rising numbers (and growing influence) of YouTube creators.
South Korea is no exception. In particular, South Korea is seeing more and more people with conservative views making their debut on YouTube, gathering viewers and supporters.
This trend is so visible that North Korea’s state-owned or propaganda websites have recently beefed up its efforts to criticize conservative parties or figures in South Korea operating YouTube channels.
Take North Korea’s state-run daily newspaper Rodong Sinmun as an example. In an editorial on September 12, the paper said, “Conservative politicians in South Korea who have lost their control over major broadcasters are now obsessed with using YouTube to manipulate public opinion.”
It went on to add that conservative politicians are spreading video clips with the intention of damaging North Korea’s reputation.
The paper specifically mentioned Kim Byong-joon, interim leader of the main opposition and conservative Liberty Korea Party, to say Kim was in the front line of spreading rumors about North Korea and attempting to manipulate public opinion by utilizing his YouTube channel.
As Rodong Sinmun noted, in recent months, there has been an increasing number of YouTube channels operated by individuals or groups with a conservative viewpoint, and they are gradually gaining popularity in South Korea.
As of August 22, for instance, five out of the 50 most viewed video clips on YouTube Korea were those produced by conservative figures or groups, while no videos with a liberal viewpoint made the list.
Among them, a channel called “Jeong Kyu-jae TV” leads the trend. The channel, which was established in December last year, is produced and operated by a Seoul-based online newspaper PenNMike.
Jeong, who is a journalist and the founder of the paper, is widely known and supported by conservative-leaning South Koreans. His channel on YouTube had more than 249,700 followers as of this writing and that number is growing.
Again, the rise of YouTube as an alternative news source is a global trend. But the question of why conservatives are leading this trend in South Korea deserves an answer.
Many believe this is because traditional media in the country have failed to provide unbiased reporting of news that could be considered sensitive by the current government, which is understood to have a liberal political view.
Park Han-myeong, a member of Media Alliance, subscribes to this view. Media Alliance is a Seoul-based organization that was established in April to monitor media behavior and make suggestions to help them improve their reporting practices.
Between April 13 and August 12, Park and his organization monitored three main public broadcasters as well as cable news channels in the country to see how they covered a recent online opinion rigging scandal.
The scandal involves ex-members of the country’s ruling liberal Democratic Party and an influential blogger who is suspected of working as a “political broker” in the online space for the party before President Moon Jae-in came into office last year. The scandal is clearly a headache for the current government.
According to Park, three public broadcasters, namely KBS, SBS, and MBC, collectively reported 295 times on this story while TV Chosun, a conservative cable broadcaster, did so 207 times over the same period.
Park said, in particular, the reporting of two national broadcasters KBS and MBC severely lacked in-depth reporting on the scandal but instead acted as a mouthpiece for the government to minimize the damage. Thus he alleges those two broadcasters neglected their duties in providing unbiased, quality information to the public.
Coincidentally or not, both KBS and MBC have witnessed ratings for their prime news programs rapidly drop in recent months. KBS saw its ratings dropping to a low of 8 percent from its usual 30 percent while MBC’s ratings plummeted to 1.97 percent in August, the broadcaster’s lowest figure in its history.
The rise in conservatives on YouTube is still somewhat of a new trend in South Korea and it does not mean that conservative views are more widely supported across the country.
After all, when looking at the various podcast providers, another pillar of alternative news sources in South Korea, there are more channels with a liberal view and they are way more popular than their conservative counterparts.
As mentioned above, however, the fact that North Korea is making an attempt to contain this trend gives enough reason to pay close attention to the rise of South Korean conservatives on YouTube.