A hero to some. A foul-mouthed conspiracy theorist to others. South Korea’s most controversial talk show host had his hit programme taken off air, so now he’s taken his massive following to YouTube.
Since 2016, Kim Ou-joon’s show “News Factory” had aired early mornings on state-funded Seoul radio station TBS, hosting everyone from politicians to classical music stars as the “unashamedly biased” presenter bashed his bete noire: conservatives.
It was the top-rated radio show in the South Korean capital for five years, according to market research data, and Kim became one of the country’s highest-paid pundits.
More of a political “influencer” than a journalist, Kim occupies the same kind of space as American late-night television hosts such as Jon Stewart — using lewd humour to dissect South Korean news, in a nakedly partisan, occasionally offensive manner.
So when a conservative administration took power in May last year, things got a little more difficult.
He has since been sued for defamation more than a dozen times, and when attempts to pressure TBS to remove his show failed, Seoul’s conservative-run city government pulled funding.
Officially, the state money was removed to allow the broadcaster to go private.
But during the process, Seoul’s mayor warned darkly that TBS was going in the “wrong direction” and seemed “politically biased”.
“They cut the entire budget of the broadcaster in order to get rid of a programme they didn’t like,” Kim, who cuts an unusually rumpled-looking figure in stylishly well-groomed South Korea, told AFP.
– YouTube success –
Kim moved his show last month to YouTube — same name, same format, same time — where it attracted 1.2 million subscribers in its first month, becoming one of the most profitable South Korean channels on the platform, thanks to donations.
YouTube data shows Kim now attracts some 200,000 listeners at any one time, while TBS’s overall ratings have plunged since he was ousted, according to industry figures.
“I will turn this into South Korea’s biggest news show on YouTube,” he told AFP.
The video-sharing giant is in many ways a more natural fit than terrestrial radio for Kim, who shot to public recognition in 2011 with a podcast called “I’m a Petty-Minded Creep”, lampooning former conservative president Lee Myung-bak.
Kim and his co-hosts’ expletive-laden conversations about South Korean politics proved a hit, especially with younger listeners. He was then able to leverage his success into his TBS deal in 2016.
His rise coincided with well-documented disenchantment with legacy media in South Korea, which ranked 40 out of 46 countries in a 2022 poll on public trust in journalism by the Reuters Institute at Oxford University.
“The real power of the media lies in what they choose not to report,” said Kim.
He claims that conservative-leaning media gloss over wrongdoing by members of the ruling People Power Party, which frustrates some readers.