The most important regulations affecting queer life in South Korea arose not necessarily from homophobia. Rather, they arose from military control over Korean media. Filtering what became and did not become its viewers’ reality, the media functioned as a window to the outside world and could mobilize “tens of thousands of students and citizens.”Lee, “Surrogate Military, Subimperialism, and Masculinity,” 659.
Specifically, newspapers and public broadcasts were the primary vehicles by which the general public would receive novel information until the end of the 1980s. As such, almost all South Korean governments after the U.S. Army Military Government (1945-48) have at time attempted to control the media in addition to the legislature. For instance, Syngman Rhee’s government (1948-60) continued the military government’s Ordinance 88 that outlawed leftist newspapers.Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, South Korea: A Country Study (DIANE Publishing, 1997), 246.
Rhee also closed moderate newspapers and arrested reporters and publishers during his reign, which left a dearth of media opinion orthogonal to the government’s own viewpoints.Ibid.
Through the National Security Act, the Park regime (1961-79) and the Chun regime (1980-1988) exerted further control and surveillance over the media.Ibid., 247.
Intelligence officials and representatives of various government agencies sent daily “reporting guidelines” (bodo jichim) to newspaper editors to control and censor Korean print media.Ibid.
These guidelines dealt exhaustively with both the information and its presentation on paper. Not only did they deal with question of emphasis and topics to be covered or avoided, but they also micromanaged the use of government press releases and the sizes of headlines.Ibid.
Governmental staff enforced these “reporting guidelines” in a variety of ways, ranging from ominous telephone calls to more serious forms of intimidation such as police beatings and interrogations.Ibid.
This state of affairs did not mean, however, that all media companies complied with the authoritarian state’s demands. For instance, approximately thirty percent of companies were uncompliant to the “reporting guidelines” between 1980 and 1982.Ibid.
Incompliance notwithstanding, the government had a profound effect on news publications both conservative and liberal until South Korea’s political liberalization in the late 1980s. After the implementation of the revised Minor Offenses Law, both newspapers and yellow journals published articles related to the yeojang, as the yeojang violated the government’s jangbal code. In effect, the government’s legislations reinforced the gender binary while bringing the yeojang from the invisible to the visible in the media. It is through the appearance of the yeojang and other sexual minorities in print media that we may understand how the media portrayed male homosexuality and homosexuals, and in turn, how the society of that time considered such topics.
To understand the depictions of Korean male homosexuality in media and their change throughout the 1980s, this paper will analyze the following set of newspapers: (1) Dong-A Ilbo, South Korea’s most prominent conservative newspaper; (2) Kyunghyang Shinmun, South Korea’s most prominent liberal newspaper of the early and mid-1980s; (3) Maeil Kyungje, a national business and economics newspaper; and (4) Hankyoreh, the most prominent liberal newspaper established after the downfall of the autocratic regime in 1988. These four newspapers have been selected for their national presence, high circulation numbers, and diversified viewpoints along the sociopolitical spectrum. In order to widen the scope of print media analysis, this paper will also analyze Sunday Seoul, a popular magazine recognized for its salacious, sensational, and ostensibly less filtered content.
Dong-A Ilbo (1920-) is a conservative newspaper that first began publication during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Since the end of the Korean War (1950-53), it has had a considerable impact on the formation of public opinion, as the conflicts between the North and the South loomed over the everyday lives of Korean citizens.Byoung Won Min, “Biting Back Against Civil Society: Information Technologies and Media Regulations in South Korea,” Journal of International and Area Studies 20, no. 1 (2013): 119.
Kyunghyang Shinmun (1946-) is a liberal newspaper that has leant towards anti-government reporting throughout its publication.Je-hae Do, “Certain Dailies Given Priority in State Ads,” The Korea Times, April 13, 2009, sec. National, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2016/03/116_43114.html.
“Reporting guidelines” (bodo jichim) affected Kyunghyang Shinmun’s journalism despite proclaiming itself as a liberal publication, and its articles’ liberal nature was questionable until the overthrow of the authoritarian government in 1988.Due to its contrarian position, Kyunghyang Shinmun’s circulation volume only began to expand noticeably over the late 1990s when the liberal regimes of Roh Tae-woo (1988-93), Kim Young-sam (1993-98), and Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) finally accelerated the democratization of South Korean politics.Min, “Biting Back Against Civil Society,” 119.
Maeil Kyungje (1966-) is a prominent conservative newspaper that was established during the Park regime’s rapid reconstruction and development of the Korean economy. The publication focused largely on business, economics, and international events. In contrast, Hankyoreh (1988-) was founded at the verge of the authoritarian government’s collapse. It was created as an alternative to existing newspapers, which the general public considered to be under the influence of the government.Chang Hun Oh and Celeste Arrington, “Democratization and Changing Anti-American Sentiments in South Korea,” Asian Survey 47, no. 2 (2007): 339, doi:10.1525/as.2007.47.2.327.
Claiming to be the “first newspaper in the world truly independent of political power and large capital,” Hankyoreh declared that its mission would be to provide perspective beyond the government’s influence.Savada and Shaw, *South Korea, 250.
Beyond these major and reputable newspapers lay Sunday Seoul (1968-91). Established under the wing of the national news publication Seoul Shinmun (1904-), Sunday Seoul was one of the most scandalous and popular weekly tabloid magazines of its time.Jung-Ah Woo, “Plastic Tradition: Jeong-Hwa Choi’s Artworks and the Work Ethic of Korea’s Developmental Era,” World Art 5, no. 1 (January 2, 2015): 63–86, doi:10.1080/21500894.2014.998773.
Unlike the major news publications, Sunday Seoul embraced issues that were deemed too sexual or distasteful to publish nationally. During its years of publication, it had the reputation of being the most prominent yellow journal of its time. Its obtuse nature and willingness to perform investigative journalism, even into the ghettos of sexual minorities, provided perspectives that Dong-A Ilbo, Kyunghyang Shinmun, Maeil Kyungje, and Hankyoreh refused to publish. Prior to analyzing media portrayals of Korean sexual minorities, however, the following section will first discuss early discussions of AIDS.