November 30, 2017 – South Korea’s dominant web portal Naver was accused of news manipulation and was brought before Parliament. Naver admitted to the practice which involved paying sports advertiser, K League. ROAD FC also has been the repeated target of Naver’s news manipulation.
Naver is a web portal operating in South Korea; it is much like the US-founded Yahoo!. Naver has the lion’s share of 70 percent of Korea’s news and media, and is the most widely used search engine. As such, Naver has a huge influence over what information is able to reach the public.
NAVER’S NEWS MANIPULATION
In late October 2017, Naver was called to a South Korean parliamentary audit in regards to documented accusations of the website’s news manipulation. A paying client, the Korea Professional Football League, asked to have an article that criticized the organization moved from the main sports news to a lesser-visited area and Naver complied. Naver founder Lee Hae-Jin admitted to the allegations. It was the first confirmed case of the portal’s news manipulation practice.
This practice explains how ROAD FC – the premier MMA-sports league in South Korea and the first Korean-founded sports league to export overseas – has been the target of news manipulation: Naver presents paying customers over organic results on its home pages, even with legitimate news. “ROAD FC” and like search terms have repeatedly ranked in the top ten for live searches on Naver, however the portal has never shown relevant and timely ROAD FC articles on their news or sports news front pages.
ROAD FC FOUNDER’S STATEMENT
ROAD FC Founder Jung Mun-Hong issues a statement on the matter:
“Among the sports brands made in Korea, even baseball and soccer have not exported to other countries like ROAD FC has been able to do. We are broadcast overseas and hold events in foreign countries and we get very good response. Yet despite this being so, in Korea where I was born – where I started this company – we are not given fair representation on the largest news portal, Naver. For the past 3 years – not just once or twice – but every time we hold an event we hit #1 or #2 in the realtime search ranking. However, articles on ROAD FC from the mainstream media and Naver products are never featured on the landing pages of Naver. This portal website system is where thousands of media are amassed, but now we know that Naver controls the placement.
“Due to the domestic market size, it’s not possible to keep growing here, so we have made ROAD FC a global brand. Global media and portal sites cover us fairly. What I care about is that the media in Korea evaluates us fairly, whether we do well or poorly. It is the athletes who suffer from the disadvantage of having no exposure, their livelihoods are severely affected. It is not morally acceptable for a Korean portal to intentionally harm a Korean league.
“I will keep trying to make ROAD FC a league that people in Korea and people all over the world want to watch. I want to show that as Koreans, we can produce a global sports league that is one of the world’s finest.”
Naver was interrogated in a second audit by the Fair Trade Commission regarding its local marginalization of small businesses. Naver is also being investigated for top-listing e-commerce sites that exclusively offer payment through it’s own Naver Pay.
While Naver has failed to detail how it will change its news manipulating practices, ROAD FC is hopeful that the government’s acknowledgement and intervention will succeed. When Korean people, sports leagues, and small businesses excel, they should have fair representation in the Korean media.