Podcast pulls no punches in savage attacks
Andrew Salmon in Seoul
They don't so much court controversy as demand it. In a nation where respect for leaders lingers, an unlikely quartet of internet broadcasters are bypassing traditional media and pushing the frontiers of satire in their gloves-off attacks on South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Their podcast, 'Naneun Ggomsuda' ('I am a petty-minded creep') features savage attacks on the conservative president. The title is a reference to Lee, mockingly referred to by the four as 'His Highness'.
The nation's top podcast with over 2 million downloads a week, Naneun Ggomsuda is also one of iTunes top podcasts globally. Income comes from merchandising and live performances to sell-out crowds.
The presenters of the show, which was launched in April, are Kim Ou-joon, a shaggy haired founder of a political parody website; Kim Yong-min, a cheery-faced former radio commentator; Chung Bong-joo, a besuited former opposition lawmaker; and Choo Chin-woo, a respected left-wing investigative journalist.
Their manic blend of jokey infighting, foul-mouthed humour and fiercely partisan political punditry has lit a fire in South Korea.
They have broken stories on the president's deluxe retirement home (construction has since halted), and alleged that a right-wing mayoral candidate in last month's Seoul by-election visited a luxury beauty salon (she lost the race). They also hound Lee over allegations of stock price manipulation before he became president. All four are facing lawsuits.
Kim Ou-joon said: 'The recurring theme in our show is, 'You should not chicken out'. When we mock the president in our show, people laugh and cry - it's therapeutic.'
The quartet leverage the politics of envy among those Koreans who, in a ferociously competitive society, have not enjoyed success. 'We are not model successful figures,' Chung said. 'We are more like losers.'
Their approach bypasses traditional media. 'We are in the process of creating a true and honest media,' Chung said. South Korea's top three newspapers by circulation are all conservative and the government appoints the heads of broadcasters. 'It's like Fox News has taken over Korea,' said Kim Ou-joon. Via podcast, the irreverent four have won freedom not just from editorial control, but also restraints on good taste.
Lee Byung-joon, a professor of communications at Sookmyung University, said: 'Traditional media are bound by regulations and professionalism, but this is personal media-based journalism. They are not bound by those rules, they are much more free.'
Clare Lee, a Seoul-based PR executive and fan of the show, said: 'It seems like they are telling the truth but other media aren't, as they are controlled by big conglomerates,' referring to a widespread belief that South Korea's powerful, family-run business empires exercise editorial control over newspapers by wielding massive advertising budgets.
Although South Korea's economy will grow over 4 per cent this year, there is a widening income gap.
While big business prospers, many Koreans are enduring high youth unemployment, soaring inflation and record high household debt. These issues, together with the president's unpopularity among a left-leaning younger generation, bode ill for the ruling Grand National Party at parliamentary elections in April and next December's presidential race.
The president - constitutionally limited to a single term - will have one consolation on leaving office. The quartet have vowed to end Naneun Ggomsuda after that.