The Fourth Estate's Influence on Deliberative Democracies: Media Framing of the 2008 US-South Korea Beef Imports Controversy

Posted in 2010 Journal


Media’s omnipresence and its role in the democratic process raise questions of the effectiveness of media framing in citizen deliberation. This paper will explore for whom and under what conditions television and its framing practices change public opinion and citizen deliberation, which in turn affect governmental policy decisions. In order to answer this question, I will examine the impact of television news programming through a probability probe that utilizes the CNN effect and media framing, applying an expanded version of Piers Robinson’s policy-media interaction model, belief importance, and frame alignment. I suggest that when policy is stable and media framing empathizes with the audience, especially with a frame that speaks to already held beliefs and highlights the importance of certain beliefs, citizens can change their opinions and are mobilized to further deliberation and action. I argue that these citizen deliberations, in turn, lead to a change in policy decisions. In particular, I concentrate on the 2008 South Korean protests about U.S. beef imports, when a news segment and subsequent coverage on South Korean television framed the issue and led to opinion formation and mobilization within the South Korean public to engage in mass protests, which I assert are a form of citizen deliberation. Subsequently, the South Korean president publicly apologized to the public, all of the South Korean cabinet ministers volunteered to resign from their positions, and the United States and South Korea informally re-negotiated trade terms – all over U.S. beef imports.

Since its establishment, the media has played a role in the democratic process, ranging from print newspapers’ candidate endorsements and graphic images of the Vietnam War to real-time television broadcasts of the Gulf War and the recent Twitter feeds about the Iranian election and subsequent protests. According to Thomas Carlyle (1841), the “fourth estate,” also known as the press, was the “more important part of Parliament” (p. 189). Although members of Parliament engaged in formal debate and decided on policy that governed the nation, Carlyle indicates that “the parliamentary debate go[es] on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament” (p. 189). The idea behind this mid-nineteenth century example of the media’s influence on deliberative democracies persists today, arguably with an even more expansive reach and a constant, real-time presence in the public sphere, thanks to technological developments and increasing access. The pervasive nature of media in today’s society begs the question: Does media framing of public opinion and citizen deliberation have tangible effects on foreign policy?

In order to answer this question, I will examine the case of media framing in the 2008 South Korean protests on U.S. beef imports. I ask for whom and under what conditions does television and its framing practices change public opinion and citizen deliberation and in turn, affect actual policy decisions. Since this is only a single case study, I will conduct a plausibility probe of this puzzle about the fourth estate’s influence on deliberation and policy outcomes to determine if it can be used for further study of media influence. This puzzling instance took place in 2008 when the South Korean president apologized to the public, all of the South Korean cabinet ministers volunteered to resign from their positions, and the United States and South Korea informally re-negotiated trade terms – all over U.S. beef imports. Through this plausibility probe, I will explore the way a news segment and subsequent coverage on South Korean television framed the issue and led to opinion formation and mobilization within the South Korean public. This mobilization led to mass protests, which I assert are a form of citizen deliberation, and these mass protests led to the subsequent changes in trade policy.

Literature Review

In Jon Elster’s (1998) Deliberative Democracy, he writes that although definitions of deliberative democracies differ greatly among scholars, they appear to consistently include participation and “decision making by means or arguments offered by and to participants” (p. 8). These two elements lay the groundwork for Susan Stokes’ (1998) definition of deliberation as a change in preference brought about by communication (p. 123). This definition of deliberative democracies makes it clear why scholarship on the effects of media framing on deliberation is important: the decision to change preferences results from what its participants communicate to one another. In the context of a deliberative democracy, public opinion and citizen deliberation play an integral role. Public opinion is the citizenry’s preferences toward a certain issue or policy and citizen deliberation is the process by which preferences can change for all participants, including citizens and elected officials who are endowed with the responsibility of representing the citizens. In particular, the media as the fourth estate is a salient part of this discussion as a site where deliberation takes place and as one of many factors that can have an effect on deliberation. As past and current scholarship indicates, studying media requires an acknowledgement of the “increasing impact of television communication” and the Internet (Williams, 2003, p. 511).

The CNN Effect

The CNN effect, also termed the “CNN complex” and the “CNN curve,” has been used by scholars, policy makers, and journalists since the 1991 Gulf War (Gilboa, 2005b, p. 29; Gilboa 2005a, p. 327). However, there is an ongoing debate on how to define the term, particularly because of “imprecise use” of the term (Livingston, 1997, p. 291; Gilboa, 2005a, p. 331). Definitions of the CNN effect range from “facilitating instant communication between states and leaders” to “forcing leaders to adopt policies that they would not make otherwise” (Gilboa, 2005a, p. 327).

Although some scholars associate the CNN effect with a paradigm change in the way diplomacy and world politics is conducted, others dismiss the effects of media as minimal or missing the point (Ammon, 2001; Edwards, 2001; Jakobsen, 2000; Gilboa, 2005a). Some scholars problematically argue that the CNN effect “forces” policy as opposed to “pressuring” policymakers to take a certain stance, especially when media may be only one factor in the policymakers’ decision making process. Gilboa (2005b) points out that a more sophisticated approach should be taken to studying the CNN effect and that “many works have exaggerated this effect” without taking into account the limits and conditions under which media influence can be felt (p. 27).

I define the CNN effect through the nuanced scholarly work of Steven Livingston (1997), which asserts that the relationship between foreign policy and media is conditional and based on the type of policy in question and the type of media being employed (p. 292-293). Instead of simply referring to the CNN effect as policy forcing, Livingston points to three conceptual variations of it: “(1) a policy agenda-setting agent, (2) an accelerant to policy decisionmaking, and (3) an impediment to the achievement of desired policy goals” (p. 293).

The CNN effect as an agenda-setting agent leads to prioritization of an issue that may have been considered “peripheral” (Livingston, 1997, p. 299-300). As an accelerant to policy, the CNN effect shortens policymakers’ response times for global issues; in particular, this leads to quick, “real-time” reactions in times of crisis (Livingston, 1997, p. 294; Ammon, 2001). Although all three variations of the CNN effect may be associated with one foreign policy initiative at different stages in its development, I explore the plausibility of the media coverage as an impediment to intended policy through its effects on public opinion (Livingston, 1997, p. 293). Literature on the media as an agenda-setter and an accelerant to policy is plentiful (Neuman, 1996; Livingston & Eachus, 1995), but the CNN effect as an impediment seems to be less frequently evoked in scholarly discussion. Therefore, this paper will address the research gap by presenting new scholarship on a different type of CNN effect that requires more careful study and analysis.

According to Livingston (1997), the CNN effect as an impediment to developing and executing foreign policy is evidenced in two ways: through “emotional coverage” that can turn the tide of public opinion against the policy and through coverage that can compromise the “operational security” necessary for the success of some military operations (p. 296). Since operational security is mainly an issue that deals with defense-related strategy and policy, it does not speak to the topic at hand. Instead, I assert that dramatic media coverage can “undermine public support” for a particular policy objective (Livingston, 1997, p. 296).

Policy-Media Interaction Model

In order to study the CNN effect, I use Piers Robinson’s policy-media interaction model to limit the conditions under which the CNN effect actually influences policy. Robinson’s (2000) policy-media interaction model claims that the media can influence governmental policy when policy uncertainty exists and the media uses frames that are critical of the government and sympathetic to “suffering people” (p. 613). Policy uncertainty, as defined by Robinson, is the lack of policy that addresses the issue at hand or the inability for members of the executive branch of government, such as the president and various cabinet ministers, to agree on policy (p. 617). I move to expand Robinson’s policy-media interaction model by countering his claim that policy certainty correlates with a lack of media influence on policy outcomes (p. 631). Policy certainty, in direct opposition to Robinson’s policy uncertainty, will be defined as conditions where a policy is already in place, with no obvious disagreement between the executive subsystems.

Similarly to Robinson, I rely on Robert Entman’s (2005) definition of framing as a “process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation” (p. 164). However, this paper’s nuanced understanding of framing also incorporates Nelson and Oxley’s (1999) notion that framing can not only change belief content, but also belief importance and Snow et al.’s (1986) view that frame alignment is key to mobilization and movement participation.

Belief Importance

I argue that frames have the ability to affect not just the content of an individual’s beliefs, but also “the importance individuals attach to issue-relevant beliefs” (Nelson & Oxley, 1999, p. 1040). Unlike the belief-change model, which only addresses framing’s effect on belief content, I propose that belief importance, or “the accessibility or importance of those beliefs,” plays a role in media frames’ ability to influence an individual’s sense of urgency regarding an issue (Nelson & Oxley, p. 1043). If a frame is able to change belief importance, it may be one of the factors that quickly mobilize the public to change their opinion and engage in citizen deliberation.

Frame Alignment

The effect of media frames on public opinion and citizen deliberation are also dependent on a crucial factor – frames that align with already held beliefs (Druckman 2001; Snow et al. 1986). In social movement literature, frame alignment refers to the link between a frame and “individual interests, values and belief” or an organization’s “activities, goals and ideology” (Snow et al., 1986, p. 464). I adapt frame alignment to refer to media frames that agree with individuals’ previously held beliefs, based on predispositions and information about an issue. As social movement literature points out, frame alignment is “a necessary condition of movement participation” (Snow et al., 1986, p. 467).

Snow et al. (1986) break up the frame alignment processes into four categories, including frame bridging, frame extension, frame transformation, and frame amplification. Frame bridging concentrates on linking frames that appear “structurally unconnected” but are “ideologically congruent” (p. 467-469), frame extension promotes values or beliefs that do not seem to have an obvious connection to individuals (p. 472-473), and frame transformation involves completely changing an individual’s views so that new values take root in the individual’s belief system (p. 473-476). This paper concentrates on frame amplification, or the “clarification and invigoration of an interpretive frame” that brings it to the forefront of peoples’ minds (Snow et al. 1986, p. 469-472). Frame amplification, coupled with Nelson and Oxley’s (1999) notion of the significance of belief importance in framing effects, directly explains how an individual’s opinion, which alone may not spur collective action, can become important enough to cause mobilization.

Through this literature, I will argue that media can affect existing policy by its use of framing, which affects public opinion and the direction of citizen deliberation and in turn, changes governmental policy.


This paper details the findings of a plausibility probe that traces the effects of media frames, in the context of the CNN effect, on public opinion and citizen deliberation, which then influence existing policy. The scope of this plausibility probe addresses under what conditions the media is impeding policy by adopting Livingston’s (1997) nuanced definition of the CNN effect as an impediment to policy and utilizing an expanded version of Robinson’s (2000) policy-media interaction model. I also use scholarly literature detailing the impact that framing effects have on belief importance and frame alignment, which can lead to a change in public opinion and mobilization for citizen deliberation. Relying on scholarly works allows the study to employ a theoretically grounded, systematic approach to this examination of the CNN effect that pinpoints more nuanced, precise definitions of terminology and defines a limited scope of media influence that leaves room for other influencing factors in changing public opinion, citizen deliberation, and policy outcomes.

Case Study

After South Korea and the United States reached an agreement on April 18, 2008 to relax the ban on U.S. beef imports, the Korean television network Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) aired a segment of their news program PD Notebook, also referred to as PD Diary and PD Note, on April 29, 2008 that asked the question, “Is American beef really safe to eat, as government officials say?” (“PD Notebook,” 2008). Protests began less than three days later on May 2, 2008, when thousands of protesters showed up in Seoul for a candlelight vigil. Internet protests were well under way by May 2, with nearly 600,000 signatures on a petition that denounced the beef deal (Lee, M.A., 2008). Protests continued throughout the summer of 2008, even turning violent. In June, members of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s cabinet volunteered to resign and the South Korean government sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. to renegotiate one of the main terms of the U.S. beef import deal (Park & Ramstad, 2008). President Lee Myung-bak even publicly apologized and called the protests a “hard lesson” in how to govern (Park & Ramstad, 2008).

I will trace the process through which MBC’s PD Notebook news segments regarding the safety of the U.S. beef imports led to a shift in public opinion and mobilized the public to engage in citizen deliberation online and in mass protests in Seoul. Citizen deliberation appeared to have a direct impact on politicians in South Korea, with President Lee Myung-bak receiving unfavorable ratings, publicly apologizing, reorganizing his cabinet, and even sending a delegation to Washington, D.C. to discuss changing a key element of the U.S. beef import deal. By tracing the influence of media frames that led to a change in policy, I will argue that the media’s influence on the way public opinions form and public discourse takes place, can act as an impediment to existing policy.


After the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on December 23, 2003 that the first case of mad cow disease had been discovered in the United States, South Korea announced the following day that it would ban U.S. beef imports (“First apparent,” 2003). South Korea was the third-largest market for U.S. beef at the time, and the ban was “a key dispute” in the Korea – U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), a deal struck by President George W. Bush and President Lee Myung-bak’s predecessor, President Roh Moo-hyun (Choe, 2008a).

Hours before newly elected President Lee Myung-bak was scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush to discuss the free trade deal and North Korea, the ban was lifted; this led to criticism by the progressive media, such as the independent newspaper Hankyoreh, that President Lee was “gifting” U.S. beef imports to President Bush (“Remarks made,” 2008). This move was designed to “clear an important obstacle to Congressional support for a wider free trade deal” and indicated Mr. Lee’s eagerness “to mend ties with Washington” in order to get the KORUS FTA ratified by the South Korean parliament before late May of 2008 (Choe, 2008a).

The April 18, 2008 lifting of the ban was instated after several failed attempts to reinstate U.S. beef imports to the South Korean market. In 2006, South Korea agreed to import U.S. boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months old. However, when South Korean quarantine inspections found “a box of vertebral columns, designated as ‘specified risk material’ that could potentially cause mad cow disease” in a late July 2007 shipment, South Korea temporarily halted imports in August 2007 (“Korea suspends,” 2007). Then, when an October 2007 shipment of U.S. beef contained backbones that had been banned for import, South Korea halted U.S. beef imports indefinitely (“Korea halts,” 2007; “South Korea to,” 2008).

These earlier attempts at lifting the ban on U.S. beef imports were met with opposition, mostly by South Korean beef farmers that were concerned about their livelihood and activists that were opposed to the KORUS FTA (“Beef farmers,” 2007). In July 2007, protesters traveled to Lotte Department Stores across Korea that were rolling out U.S. beef into the South Korean market and held sit-ins and, in extreme cases, threw dung at the meat counter workers, causing “six of the chain’s 53 stores to stop selling the beef” (Hwang, 2007). In 2007, the protests were confined to a smaller population of activists and accounts of the protests indicate “even after the sales were stopped [at Lotte Department Stores], customers there asked for the U.S. beef” (Hwang, 2007). If majority public opinion was not opposed to U.S. beef imports in 2007, what changed that led to large-scale mass protests in 2008?

The News Program Heard Across South Korea: The Policy-Media Interaction Model Applied to MBC’s PD Notebook

On April 29, 2008, MBC broadcast their initial PD Notebook on U.S. beef, framing the issue by raising the question: is American beef really safe? From the beginning of the program, PD Notebook emphasized belief importance by calling the U.S. beef import issue a critical problem, highlighting the fact that beef that was potentially unsafe for consumption would be coming into South Korea during the following month (“PD Notebook,” 2008).

In Livingston’s (1997) definition of the CNN effect as an impediment to policy implementation, media coverage that empathizes with the people can affect public support. PD Notebook used Humane Society footage of sick cows, presumably infected with mad cow disease, being prodded to get on their feet with electric prods; emotional footage of a Virginian woman Aretha Vinson’s funeral, who was said to have been diagnosed with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), also known as the human form of mad cow disease; and statistics that 94% of Koreans are susceptible to vCJD because of their “genetic make-up” (“PD Notebook,” 2008). They also pointed out that this new U.S. beef import deal would allow cattle over 30 months of age to be imported into South Korea, even though Americans did not eat older cattle themselves, and that even powdered soup bases in ramen, cosmetic products, and gel capsules may contain U.S. beef remnants that could cause vCJD (“PD Notebook,” 2008).

PD Notebook’s coverage of the potential risks of consuming infected U.S. beef were framed to be, first, a serious risk with deadly consequences and, second, one to which Koreans were especially susceptible, especially in light of the recent U.S. beef import agreement on April 18, 2008. When pointing out that cattle over 30 months of age would be able to come into South Korea now, one of the reporters on PD Notebook made a remark during the show that the government seemed to be taking this matter lightly, even though Korean citizens’ lives were on the line (“PD Notebook,” 2008). MBC’s frames emphasized the imminent danger facing the public by showing footage of unconcerned patrons eating beef of unknown origin in restaurants (“PD Notebook,” 2008). Similarly to the humanitarian and defense-related crises that Livingston (1997) and Robinson (2000) associate with the CNN effect, PD Notebook was full of graphic footage that had an emotional connection with South Korean citizens. The importance of images is apparent in this program, with both speech-acts and images playing a role in the manipulated meaning that is used to frame what is communicated to the public (Williams, 2003, p. 525).

This manifestation of the CNN effect meets the two criteria set forth by this paper’s expanded version of Robinson’s (2000) policy-media interaction model. Media coverage utilized frames that were empathetic to suffering people by citing examples such as Aretha Vinson’s death, highlighting statistics about Koreans’ susceptibility to developing vCJD if exposed to infected beef from the U.S., and showing images of sick cows and ground up parts of cows that could be infected with mad cow disease that were presumably fed to American-raised cattle (“PD Notebook,” 2008). MBC even brought in experts to ask poignant, emotional questions about the danger U.S. beef posed to “poor people,” especially since U.S. beef is priced lower than beef that is domestically raised in Korea or imported from other countries such as Australia (“PD Notebook,” 2008).

Also, policy certainty was demonstrated by President Lee Myung-bak and his cabinet’s stance on lifting the U.S. beef ban and getting the KORUS FTA passed in hopes of stimulating the economy (Robinson, 1999; Choe, 2008a). By the time this segment of PD Notebook aired, there was no doubt about the policy that had been put in place; even with ongoing mass protests, a senior official in the South Korean government announced on May 29, 2008 that “once the government’s new import rules have been published,” the ban would be lifted for most U.S. beef (“South Korea to,” 2008).

In the face of policy certainty and media frames that were empathetic toward suffering citizens, changes in belief importance and frame alignment affected public opinion and mobilized citizens in online and mass protests.

Belief Importance

The importance the South Korean public accorded to beliefs regarding U.S. beef imports played an important role in starting citizen deliberations. Belief content change regarding the safety of U.S. beef was not as important, because prior information about the 2003 discovery of mad cow disease in American cattle and predispositions toward anti-American sentiment may have informed citizens’ opinions about the safety of U.S. beef. However, PD Notebook’s sense of urgency about the lifting of the beef ban and how this could affect the lives of citizens in a deadly manner appeared to alter the importance that South Koreans placed on governmental policy about U.S. beef imports and played a part in mobilizing South Korean citizens to pursue citizen deliberation in the form of Internet discussions and protests, as well as candlelight vigils and other mass protest activities.

Frame Alignment

The alignment of news frames with citizens’ concerns about their safety and health was also a key factor in mobilization and citizen movement participation. In particular, value amplification of potentially unsafe U.S. beef and the imminent danger South Korean citizens faced with the lifting of the ban are factors that led to South Koreans to engage in citizen deliberation. Although activists had previously engaged in protests, and independent or liberal media outlets such as the Hankyoreh had expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. beef deal, “the focusing, elevation, and reinvigoration of values relevant to the issue” by PD Notebook’s media frames played a part in the large scale mobilization of citizens to action (Snow et al., 1986, p. 469). In fact, just three days after the MBC PD Notebook segment on American beef had aired, nearly 600,000 signatures had been gathered online opposing the lifting of the U.S. beef ban (Lee, M.A., 2008). Although past attempts to lift the ban in 2007 had mainly garnered the attention of South Korean farmers and special interest groups, media framing that emphasized the urgency of the issue presented the South Korean public with the impetus to act.

The South Korean Protests as Citizen Deliberation

As citizen opinion fell in line with MBC’s media frames, mobilization began. South Korean citizens engaged in the first candlelight vigil on May 2, 2008 and then continued almost daily protests, including a large one on June 10, 2008. According to police, the rally was attended by 100,000 protesters, while protest organizers point to an attendance of 1 million. The date of the protest was significant because June 10 marked the 21st anniversary of the 1987 protests against the military-led government of Chun Doo Hwan that eventually led to the election of a president under a new Constitution (Kirk, 2008; “Q&A: S Korea,” 2008).

When utilizing Stokes’ (1998) definition of deliberation as communication that changes preferences, protest falls under the definition of citizen deliberation as a form of communication that has the ability to change policies and even bring down a dictatorial figure like Chun Doo Hwan. Further, unlike past protests, such as the July 2007 protest of U.S. beef imports, these citizen deliberations were not only populated by activists but en masse by the public (Hwang, 2007). What surprised “South Korean civil society, labor unions and opposition politicians – the usual players in such public protests,” was the lack of an organizer for the protests (Lee, S., 2008, para. 8). According to news reports, “people took to the streets and formed ad hoc protest groups, usually around 6pm or 7pm each day” (Lee, S., 2008, para. 8).

These citizen deliberations were not just held on the streets of Seoul, but also on Internet forums accessed by South Korean citizens. Although the role of the Internet in citizen deliberation was not explicitly dealt with in this paper, online deliberation and citizen journalism appeared to be another key factor in framing public opinion and mobilizing citizen deliberation.

Policy Outcomes

As the protests raged on throughout the summer of 2008, South Korea initially went forward with the beef deal, announcing on May 29, 2008 that U.S. beef imports would resume by the following week. However, news reports in early June confirmed that South Korea would delay lifting the ban on U.S. beef imports due to protests and a request for delay by the Grand National Party (“S. Korea delays,” 2008). During the protests, President Lee Myung-bak’s popularity fell drastically, from a landslide victory that took him into office in February 2008 to an approval rating of below 20% in June 2008 (Choe, 2008d). On June 10, 2008, President Lee Myung-bak’s “entire cabinet offered to resign” to try to appease South Korean public sentiment (Choe, 2008b, para. 1). On June 18, 2008, President Lee issued a public apology to the South Korean people, speaking of the “hard lesson” he learned from the public protests and “assert[ing] he ‘lost sight’ of public concerns over food safety” (Park & Ramstad, 2008).

On top of the symbolic acts by the South Korean government, President Lee Myung-bak sent a delegation to Washington, D.C. on June 9, 2008 to negotiate with the United States to limit the import of cattle older than 30 months old, which are thought to be more susceptible to mad cow disease (Choe, 2008b). A “commercial understanding” was negotiated allowing only cattle younger than 30 months to be imported and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set up a system for age verification. This system allows South Korean inspectors to reject a specific product or take action against a specific company regarding the violation incident. Although protestors did not succeed in reinstating the U.S. beef import ban, they did change the terms of the beef import policy and gave President Lee Myung-bak pause in his consideration of other domestic policies, such as the cross-country canal that many protestors also opposed (Park & Ramstad, 2008). President Lee Myung-bak also fired three ministers – the agriculture, health, and education ministers – on July 7, 2008 to help restore the public image that had been tarnished by his April 18, 2008 U.S. beef import agreement (“U.S., S. Korea,” 2008).

The outcome of the media framing by PD Notebook was a change in public opinion that mobilized citizens to protest, which resulted in tangible effects on the policies of President Lee Myung-bak’s administration in relation to the U.S. beef imports and other domestic issues. In effect, media framing became an impediment to the implementation of President Lee Myung-bak and his cabinet members’ policies.


The findings of this plausibility probe do not necessarily extend beyond the case study detailed here and require further testing. It is also important to consider the limitations and other possible explanations for the policy outcomes of the South Korean beef protests, including the role of the Internet, anti-American sentiment, and broader concerns about the media.

The Role of the Internet in Framing and Citizen Deliberation

As of July 2010, South Korea has the greatest number of households (95.9%) with broadband access among the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries (Organisation, 2010). Although this paper does not address the impact of the Internet and citizen journalism at length, these statistics indicate that the Internet is a significant consideration in framing any public debate. Since one of the initial forms of protest was an Internet petition on a popular Korean web portal that garnered close to a million signatures, the Internet may have played an integral role in framing the issue and in mobilizing the public to engage in protests.

The Internet may have also inflated risks presented by the initial media frame and as one headline read, led to the “South Korean Internet catch[ing] ‘mad cow madness’” (Herskovitz & Rhee, 2008). With conservative voices pointing to left-leaning Internet sites as the cause of the changing tide of public opinion, it appears MBC’s PD Notebook may not be alone in framing the issue and mobilizing citizen deliberation. Regardless of whether the Internet was a medium that framed the U.S. beef import issue, a site of citizen deliberation and mobilization, or both, the Internet deserves further consideration as an important factor in the 2008 U.S. beef protests in South Korea. Further study would provide perspective on how the Internet complicates the role of television media influence, particularly MBC’s broadcast, in spurring citizen deliberation in the South Korean beef protests.

Anti-American Sentiment in South Korea

The role of anti-Americanism, which Thomas Kern (2005) refers to as a “master frame” that connects various groups of South Koreans with differing interests, should be considered (p. 258). Although the vociferous, powerful Korean agriculture and beef lobby has historically expressed displeasure with U.S. beef imports as a threat to their livelihood, the 2008 protests involved other unlikely parties, such as schoolgirls (“With FTA ink,” 2007). Were the U.S. beef protests simply about the safety of U.S. beef or, were they a result of the “strong criticism of the United States [that] has become more and more popular within nearly all social strata” in South Korea? (Kern, 2005, p. 258).

Controversy About MBC’s PD Notebook

The controversy over the validity of MBC’s PD Notebook and its claims about the safety of U.S. beef is also worth noting, as it raises questions about the ethics of media framing in situations where the facts are not actually facts. This controversy involves allegations that MBC’s producers intentionally provided misinformation and inflated the risk of mad cow disease in U.S. beef, including leaving out some of the details surrounding Aretha Vinson’s cause of death, only including the viewpoints of the U.S. Consumers Union, distorting captions on images of sick cows to make it appear that they are suffering from mad cow disease, and incorrectly translating some of the English statements during the show (“More allegations,” 2008; “Prosecutors Find,” 2008).

After an investigation into the show, the Korea Communications Standards Commission ordered MBC “to apologize to viewers for alleged violations of fairness and objectivity” in its segments on the safety of U.S. beef (“MBC ordered,” 2008). Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office also investigated whether the show defamed the Agriculture Ministry, the chief negotiators of the April 18, 2008 lifting of the U.S. beef import ban (“MBC Manipulated,” 2008). However, it is important to note that these investigations were, for the most part, the work of conservative politicians and that much of the coverage about PD Notebook’s inconsistencies and their lack of objectivity were mentioned in editorials by conservative-leaning newspapers, including the Chosun Ilbo, the JoongAng Ilbo, and the Dong-a Ilbo (Han & Levin, 2003, p. 137). Others within South Korea and from elsewhere in the world, including Amnesty International’s Korea researcher, Norma Kang Muico, called the prosecution of MBC an indication that “the freedom of the press in Korea is now facing a challenge” (“Human rights,” 2009). Media scholars point to the existence of echo chambers, where existing opinions and attitudes are confirmed through “selective exposure, selective perception, and selective retention” and users are cloistered from considering varied viewpoints (Jamieson & Cappella, 2008). Therefore, it is imperative that further research address the role of the partisan press in influencing public opinion and citizen deliberation.

This instance of MBC’s framing, which did not necessarily rely on factual information, could be characterized as “framing par excellence: to concede your opponent’s factual claims, but to assert that, under the proper framing of the issue, those facts aren’t important” (Nelson & Oxley, 1999, p. 1058). With the knowledge that MBC could have distorted facts come more questions about the ethics of media frames. The controversy over the PD Notebook segments on U.S. beef safety raises questions of journalistic integrity in framing.


The media’s influence on deliberative democracies has a long history, but the pervasive nature of media today makes the question of media framing’s influence on governmental policy salient. In this paper, I explored the CNN effect through the media’s use of framing and questioned whether this framing can affect public opinion, citizen deliberation, and, ultimately, policy outcomes. Without overstating the effects of media framing, I demonstrated through this case study how the CNN effect acted as an inhibitor to South Korean policy implementation and expanded Robinson’s (2000) policy-media interaction model by illustrating how media influence is possible when policy is stable.

I concluded that when policy is stable and media framing empathizes with the audience, especially with a frame that speaks to already held beliefs and highlights the importance of certain beliefs, citizens are mobilized to further deliberation. My argument that these citizen deliberations, in turn, lead to a change in policy decisions, was confirmed by President Lee Myung-bak’s public apology, the firing of three ministers in his cabinet, and the renegotiation of the terms of South Korea’s import of U.S. beef.

This case study illustrates the undeniable impact of television in terms of media framing practices, in swaying public opinion and changing the course of citizen deliberation, and consequently, affecting South Korean governmental policies. By focusing on policy making in trade rather than in humanitarian crises or defense-related affairs, this paper addresses the research literature gaps regarding the CNN effect and affirmatively answers Gilboa’s call to provide literature that addresses whether global television can alter an existing policy (2005b, p. 37; 2005a, p. 336). The results of this plausibility probe about the fourth estate’s influence on deliberation and policy outcomes should be used for further study, but with acknowledgement of the growing influence of the Internet and citizen journalism in deliberations and with questions regarding the objectivity of the media.


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