US beef shakes up Korean media

Public outcry over government's decision to import U.S. beef has escalated into fiery squabble between South Korean major newspapers and news portal Daum.

SOUTH KOREA--The ongoing outcry over the government's decision to import U.S. beef has sparked a fierce quarrel between the nation's major newspapers and an online portal.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans have been demonstrating on the streets of the capital to protest the government's decision to import, what they claim is unsafe U.S. beef.

These rallies have since escalated into a clash between the nation's three major conservative newspapers--Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and DongA Ilbo--and popular Internet portal Daum.

Following the government's decision in May, South Koreans have protested regularly on Daum, via its debate forum called Agora. Daum, Korea's second-largest portal, provides a range of online services including free Web-based e-mail, news content and forums.

Agora has become a popular platform for discussions about the nation's agreement to import beef from the United States.

A large number of posts on Daum urged Internet users to boycott companies that advertise in the three major newspapers. In fact, some online users have mounted the pressure by sending messages and making phone calls to advertisers, demanding that they stopped placing ads in ChoJoongDong--a collective nickname for Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and DongA Ilbo.

As the campaign gained momentum, the three dailies launched a counterattack and threatened to stop supplying news content to Daum.

A spokesperson from Chosun Ilbo said: "Daum has ignored illegal acts by Netizens on its site, including threats, defamation and work disruption against companies that place ads in Chosun and other major conservative dailies. The portal has also continuously violated news copyrights."

Prosecutors in Seoul have initiated investigations in a bid to identify Netizens behind the boycott campaign.

Some South Koreans view ChoJoongDong's move as a carefully orchestrated plan to attack their rivals and leading portal sites such as Daum, which has since said it would remove the incriminating posts.

Several Internet users have taken refuge by using foreign Internet sites to share information about the boycott campaign. For instance, some online users have created a forum called Google Agora in Google Groups, which also functions as a forum for the debate.

Unlike some Web sites, Google does not require personal information such as resident registration number, which is a 13-digit identification number that is issued to all South Koreans. As a result, it is less likely that comments posted on Google will become targets of the Seoul prosecutors.