A couple of weeks ago I came across what I thought was an observant editorial [in Korean] written by a fourth-year journalism student at South Korea’s Chung-Ang University about Internet ads on Korean news sites. Cho Song Jun, the author, points out what many Korean readers certainly have noticed but perhaps have not been fully cognizant of: that many websites operated by reputable news brands are strewn with images of half-naked women.
Of course, almost of these images are advertisements (some are photo galleries that are probably paid content), and thus they are a source of revenue for news organizations as they struggle with the transition from print. With some sites — including, unfortunately, that of the outlet publishing Cho’s article — it’s so bad that I’ve felt a little leery reading them at work.
It get’s worse than my example above, and websites typically feature images of Korean women, but I won’t go rooting around for further screenshots to demonstrate those practices. Cho makes the argument that Korean news organizations, in using sex to draw revenue, aren’t just being lazy; they’re also perpetuating and solidifying the gender hierarchy that has existed in Korea for hundreds of years and which only now is beginning to be broken down. He notes that the intended consumers of these ads, of course, are men.
The lascivious advertising strategy employed by Internet news sites cannot be criticized simply as bold-faced. Rather, we ought to be concerned that this behavior of exploiting women’s bodies as a means [to generate revenue] creates a context of inequality within gender relations in South Korean society.
(Translation my own)
It’s not a surprise that sex sells, but I think the author makes a point here. Should news sites — rather than trying to draw clicks and revenue through more interesting content — be relying on images of scantily clad women? And doesn’t a proliferation of such images confirm notions that women occupy secondary roles in society, primarily to please men? That seems to be the kind of thing that progressive dailies like the Kyunhyang (pictured above) would rail against.
In my browsing, I have noticed that most of the bigger outlets — the Chosun Ilbo, Yonhap — don’t make use of those kinds of images, and that it’s more the second and third-tier outlets where the practice is present. That might be an indication of the kind of difficulty they face. While the big outlets will always be go-to sources of news for Koreans, the others might be hemorrhaging readers in competition with web-only and citizen journalism sites.
For more on gender issues in South Korea, head on over to James Turnbull’s blog, The Grand Narrative, which has been exploring these issues in-depth for years.