The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Naver faces growing calls to become more transparent news platform

Korean portal giant admits to accepting requests from K League, sparks concerns over transparency

By Sohn Ji-young

Published : Oct. 22, 2017 - 15:25

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Naver, which operates South Korea’s largest portal website, is facing growing calls to heighten transparency after it was found to have removed a negative news article upon request by the involved organization.

Naver admitted on Friday that it had taken down a news article criticizing the actions of the K League from the main page of the portal’s sports tab in October 2016. The confirmation came after allegations were raised by a local media outlet.

It is the first confirmed case of media meddling by the online platform, which dominates nearly 70 percent of Korea’s news and media search space, exerting influence over what kind of news does or does not easily reach the public.

Naver’s headquarters in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province (Yonhap) Naver’s headquarters in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province (Yonhap)

“Following an internal investigation, we discovered that our Naver Sports section editor had indeed partially accepted external requests to change our article arrangement,” Naver CEO Han Seong-sook said in a statement.

“We were unable to completely shut out the possibility that issues like this would emerge from working simultaneously with two structurally opposing organizations — news companies and sports organizations which are under the scrutiny of the media,” the Naver CEO said.

According to Han, Naver Sports offers not only sports-related news but also diverse content like live-streamed sports games as well as match video clips and records, requiring the portal website to cooperate and partner with major sports organizations like the K League.

“We pledge to reform our organization and place new checks and safeguards over our news arrangement system to prevent something like this from happening again.” Han said.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Saturday criticized Naver for its actions and called for the establishment of new regulations to strengthen transparency at Korea’s major online portals.

“We are shocked that Naver, which hosts 70 percent of Korea’s online news queries, deceived citizens by manipulating how it arranges news,” said Rep. Khang Hyo-sang, a spokesman for the Liberty Korea Party said.

“The case confirms that it is very much possible for Naver to manipulate how it exposes certain news stories. This makes Naver a criminal company that has continuously lied to our citizens,” Khang said.

The Liberty Korea Party also reiterated its claim that Naver manipulated its news arrangements to show fewer articles about its own candidate Rep. Hong Joon-pyo on its main mobile news page during the presidential election this year. 

The party alleges that the portal allotted more space on its main news page to positive articles involving current President Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party of Korea as well as Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party.

Naver’s confirmation that it rearranged its news on request of the K-League has ignited concerns that this may not be an isolated case. The firm’s latest admission has brought back to surface previous cases in which Naver was accused of manipulating which stories are displayed on its main news page.

In July this year, Samsung Electronics was accused of pressuring Korea’s portal website operators Naver and Kakao to remove negative news stories about Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong from their main news page in May 2015.

At the time, both Naver and Kakao strongly denied such actions, citing article exposure records that fall in line with their “news clustering algorithm” which automatically designates and updates top stories by volume.

They had even announced plans to take legal action against the local newspaper that first raised the allegations for damaging their reputation and public image.

By Sohn Ji-young (