Alternative Media and Korean Democracy: The 2016 Candlelight Movement
In October 2016, South Koreans citizens started coming together for a series of “candlelight” demonstrations. They demanded the resignation of president Park Geun Hye, who was suspected of abusing her power. The protests – the largest in the country in the past 30 years – brought attention to the issue, which was eventually resolved through impeachment, dismissal, and prosecution of Park. Social media and non-traditional media organizations were crucial for the development of the massive but surprisingly peaceful candlelight movement. This episode speaks to concerns about the role of the internet and internet news in particular in politics. I show how entrepreneurial journalists and activists used the internet to create space for offering critical reflections on politics. Media suppression under the Lee Myung Bak government (2008-13) drove investigative journalists out of mainstream media and inspired many of them to begin new media organizations on the internet. Their activities drew attention to underlying social problems (in particular, entrenched inequality) and helped propagate awareness of the president’s wrongdoing. The internet’s contribution to building a thoughtful, critical public sphere runs counter to views that the internet is easily subject to manipulation by the government or the propagation of “fake news” for political purposes. Rather, we need to consider the political and media context in order to understand the political potential of the internet.
Hyejin Kim is lecturer in Global Studies and Political Science at the National University of Singapore, where she is also deputy convener of the Global Studies program. Trained in anthropology and China studies, Hyejin is the author of International Ethnic Networks and Intra-Ethnic Conflict: Koreans in China and Jia: A Novel of North Korea. Her research and teaching interests include transnational dimensions to ethnicity, international education, and the global food system in East and Southeast Asia.