Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Media Exposure and Regime Support under Competitive Authoritarianism: Evidence from South Korea

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

Media Exposure and Regime Support under Competitive Authoritarianism: Evidence from South Korea

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study explores whether and how exposure to mass media affects regime support in competitive authoritarian regimes. Using geographical and temporal variation in newspaper circulation and radio signal strength in South Korea under Park Chung Hee's competitive authoritarian rule (1961-1972), we find that greater exposure to media was correlated with more opposition to the authoritarian incumbent, but only when the government's control of the media was weaker. When state control of the media was stronger, the correlation between media exposure and regime support disappeared. Through a content analysis of newspaper articles, we also demonstrate that the regime's tighter media control is indeed associated with pro-regime bias in news coverage. These findings from the South Korean case suggest that the liberalizing effect of mass media in competitive authoritarian regimes is conditional on the extent of government control over the media.

Keywords

competitive authoritarianism, media control, radio, newspaper, Korea, Park Chung Hee

INTRODUCTION

Studies on media development emphasize that the media can have a liberalizing effect on political systems by serving as a watchdog, but that state-controlled media props up authoritarian rule by functioning as a government mouthpiece. This study examines the relationship between media exposure and regime support in competitive authoritarian regimes where mass media is not continuously or entirely controlled but where the regime maintains the capability of exercising control. This variation in media control in hybrid regimes allows us to explore the conditions under which media have subversive or bolstering effects on competitive authoritarian regimes.

To explore the impact of media exposure on regime support in competitive authoritarian regimes empirically, we examine South Korea's authoritarian period. South Korea experienced varying degrees of authoritarian rule from the 1960s to the 1980s. South Korea also faced severe state censorship and control throughout the twentieth century, especially under Park Chung Hee (1961-1979) and Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1987). (1) During the first decade of Park's rule (1961-1972), often characterized as "soft authoritarianism" or "democratic interlude" (Im 2011, 234), a series of acts intended to repress news agencies and broadcasting stations took place that helped to silence the critical media and laid the groundwork for Park's absolute dictatorship, known as the Yushin regime (1972-1979). Yet during this "dark age of democracy" (Lee 2010; Lee 2005; Yi 2011), a "sustained social movement for democracy," including the free press movement, emerged in resistance to the Yushin system (Chang 2015, 4). These diverging impacts of Park's suppression of mass media on the expression of citizens' views and support for the regime thus remain unclear. With the lack of empirical research on the role and effects of media in South Korea, these mixed outcomes call into question the relationship between media exposure and regime support in authoritarian regimes.

Despite a plethora of anecdotal evidence on the Park regime's media control, this study is the first attempt to our knowledge to empirically explore when and how media exposure affected public support for the authoritarian incumbent. This study specifically focuses on Park's pre-Yushin regime, the competitive authoritarian period in which Park contested in competitive elections until the promulgation of the Yushin Constitution in 1972 that abolished direct presidential elections. During this period, government's control over both print media and broadcast media became more severe beginning in the mid-1960s.

We first conduct a content analysis of newspapers for more than 400 articles published in the presidential elections years to show that tighter control of media in the mid- to late-1960s is indeed associated with articles taking a more pro-regime stance. …

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