In his presentation at the GW Institute for Korean Studies, journalist and former Blue House spokesman, Youn Kuk Jung discussed the impact of the post-truth era on South Korean media and government. “Post-truth” was the 2016 Oxford Dictionary word of the year, and it emphasizes the precedence of emotion and personal opinion over objective truth. Mr. Jung traced its origins to increasing suspicion towards news sources with the rise of alternative information sources online. Through the miniaturization and grouping processes in online discourse, people converse only with like-minded individuals and their opinions are never challenged. These insulated groups can become politically powerful, playing on the sentiments of members to create demagogy, or “political activity or practices that seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.”
Mr. Jung argued that the media has an obligation to remain neutral in order to fight against such demagogy. However, when journalists’ priority is with attracting more readers, they fear of going against the prevailing public opinion and may also write news that have yet to be proven correct. This is especially potent in South Korea, where public sentiment is seen as above the rule of law. Other challenges of online communication in the post-truth era include the tendency to block-out different viewpoints and the proliferation of low quality discourse on the Internet and via text messaging. To combat these problems, he proposed that journalists hold themselves to high standards, seeking the hidden truth beneath the surface and patiently confirming facts before breaking stories. In addition, laws limiting reporting on ongoing investigations could help prevent media and public influence on judicial decisions. Mr. Jung raised serious concerns about efforts to stir up emotions for political gain and urged a combination of media and government efforts to present the truth and preserve the rule of law.
Written by Grace Wright