Transboundary Air Pollution in South Korea: An Analysis of Media Frames and Public Attitudes and Behavior

Abstract

The lack of a coherent policy to address seasonal air pollution in Northeast Asia is partly due to the complexity of the issue—that it is both domestic and transboundary in nature—and partly due to media frames that emerge in response to seasonal fluctuations. To provide a better understanding of these factors as well as their potential impact on public opinion and behavior, this paper claims that the varying narratives conveyed in the Korean media have an impact on and provide a basis for assessing Koreans’ opinions about the problem of air pollution, both transboundary and domestically. Invoking the extant literature that connects media effects with public opinion about air pollution, the analysis proceeds in two stages. First, based on an analysis of Yonhap News Agency reporting, it is shown that the emerging media-based frames are dominated by China and health-related content. Second, and in light of these frames, a survey is conducted of a representative sample of Seoul Metropolitan Area residents to determine how attention to the air pollution issue drives attitudes and, in turn, how such attitudes may be associated with specific pollution-reduction actions. Consistent with the media-based frames, it is shown that one’s attentiveness to the air pollution issue increases the importance one places on reducing Korea’s air pollution. Knowledge about air pollution also decreases one’s satisfaction with both Korea’s and China’s air pollution-reduction efforts. Knowledge about air pollution does not impact on Koreans’ decision to minimize exposure to air pollution outdoors (by wearing masks) or indoors (by using air purifiers), but it does increase the likelihood that one will simply stay indoors, indicating that health concerns are paramount for the average citizen.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    See details provided by the Data-Driven Yale and AirVisual databases: http://datadriven.yale.edu/air-quality-2/air-pollutions-hazy-future-in-south-korea-2/; https://airvisual.com/south-korea.

  2. 2.

    Updates from Greenpeace have also connected Korean coal plant construction to transboundary air pollution flowing out of Korea to Southeast Asia, attributed to Korea’s and other countries’ continued and projected increases in coal use from the present to 2030 (Koplitz et al. 2017). See the following Greenpeace press release for details: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2017/Cancelling-new-coal-plants-in-Southeast-Asia-Korea-Japan-would-save-50000-lives-a-year/.

  3. 3.

    Institutional Review Board approval granted by the [withheld] IRB on February 15, 2017; Protocol #: IRB2017-014. This survey was part of a larger survey of the Korean public with regard to air pollution.

  4. 4.

    Specifically, an individual must first request to be a panel member for Embrain, which is followed by an email sent from Embrain’s Panel Management Team to request additional information to confirm the validity of the potential panel member’s email. To finally confirm that the requesting individual is who s/he says s/he is, an Embrain Panel Management Team member contacts the individual via telephone. This process ensures that heads of households are in fact registering for the service. Management of the panel is conducted by randomly sent invitations for participation in Internet surveys with monetary incentives for participation. The estimated monetary incentive for respondents participating in the present study was approximately $5. Selection bias from targeting only Internet users is alleviated given the nearly 89.9% Internet penetration rate in Korea (CIA World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ks.html).

  5. 5.

    This is consistent with the sample analyzed below: 9% primarily obtain their news from newspapers, 65% from Internet-based news, 4% from social media, 19% from television and radio, while only the remaining 3% use another source or do not follow the news at all.

  6. 6.

    Given the potential for priming effects to result from a particular ordering of the second, third, and fourth questions, they were randomly ordered across survey respondents.

  7. 7.

    The exact language used for the survey can be found in the “Appendix”.

  8. 8.

    It is highly doubtful that the difference between the Korea-satisfaction and the China-satisfaction means is due to other factors such as a general perception that China’s air pollution problems are worse than Korea’s. Attribution of responsibility is the focus when China is discussed in the context of Korea’s air pollution.

  9. 9.

    The pairwise correlation coefficients among attitudes were all statistically significant at the p < 0.01 level.

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Acknowledgements

This project was made possible through funding from the EWHA-KACA Research Award of the Ewha Womans University, Division of Communication and Media (EWHA) and the Korea American Communication Association (KACA). This work is also supported by the Korea Research Foundation Grant funded by the Korean Government (MEST) (NRF-2016S1A5A2A03927685). An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2017 Association for Asian Studies-in-Asia Conference at Korea University, Seoul, Korea. The authors are grateful for translation assistance from Jiwon Kim and Suyang Kang.

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Correspondence to Matthew A. Shapiro.

Appendix

Appendix

Survey instrument

To what extent is it important to take action to reduce Korea’s air pollution?
한국이 대기오염 감축을 위해 대책을 세우는 일이 얼마나 중요하다고 생각하십니까?
Extremely unimportant전혀 중요하지 않다.
Very unimportant중요하지 않다.
Somewhat unimportant다소 중요하지 않다.
Neutral 보통이다
Somewhat important다소 중요하다.
Very important중요하다.
Extremely important 매우 중요하다.
[The three following questions are randomly ordered.]
To what extent is it necessary for Korea to coordinate with China to reduce Korea’s air pollution?
대기오염 감축을 위해 한국이 중국과 함께 대책을 세우는 것이 얼마나 필요하다고 생각하십니까?
Extremely unnecessary전혀 필요하지 않다.
Very unnecessary필요하지 않다.
Somewhat unnecessary조금 필요하지 않다.
Neutral 보통이다
Somewhat necessary조금 필요하다.
Very necessary필요하다.
Extremely necessary매우 필요하다.
To what extent are you satisfied with Korea’s efforts to reduce its air pollution?
대기오염 감축을 위한 한국의 노력에 어느정도 만족하십니까?
Extremely unsatisfied매우 불만족
Very unsatisfied불만족
Somewhat unsatisfied다소 불만족
Neutral 중간
Somewhat satisfied다소 만족
Very satisfied만족
Extremely satisfied 매우 만족
To what extent are you satisfied with China’s efforts to reduce its air pollution?
대기오염 감축을 위한 중국의 노력에 어느정도 만족하십니까?
Extremely unsatisfied매우 불만족
Very unsatisfied불만족
Somewhat unsatisfied다소 불만족
Neutral 중간
Somewhat satisfied다소 만족
Very satisfied만족
Extremely satisfied 매우 만족
If applicable, which of the following methods do you regularly use to reduce the effects of air pollution? Check all that apply.
만약 해당된다면, 대기오염의 영향을 줄이기 위해 다음 중 어떤 방법을 규칙적으로 사용하십니까? 해당되는 모든 선택지에 체크해 주십시오.
Wearing a hospital-style face mask 일반 마스크
Wearing a respirator-style face mask 방독마스크
Covering face with scarf or other clothing 스카프나 옷으로 얼굴을 가린다.
Using an air filtration machine at home 가정에서 공기청정기 사용
Using an air filtration machine at work 직장에서 공기청정기 사용
Staying inside as much as possible 가급적 실내에 있는다.
Which of the following contribute to air pollution? (check all that apply)
다음 중 대기오염에 영향을 미치는 오염물질은 어느 것입니까? (해당되는 사항에 모두 체크해주십시오.)
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 이산화탄소(CO2)
Carbon monoxide (CO) 일산화탄소(CO)
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) 질소산화물(NOX)
PM2.5 초미세먼지
Sulfur oxides (SOx) 황산화물(SOX)
How many people in your household suffer from respiratory problems?
귀하의 가정에서 몇 분이 호흡기 관련된 문제를 가지고 있습니까?
None 없음
1 person 1명
2 people 2명
3 or more people 3명 이상
How hours per day do you spend outdoors?
귀하는 하루 평균 몇 시간을 야외에서 보내십니까?
1–24. [1시간-24시간]

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Shapiro, M.A., Bolsen, T. Transboundary Air Pollution in South Korea: An Analysis of Media Frames and Public Attitudes and Behavior. East Asian Community Rev 1, 107–126 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s42215-018-0009-1

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Keywords

  • Korean air pollution
  • Pollution-averting behavior
  • Public opinion
  • Media-based frames
  • Transboundary air pollution