Media, State and Social Class Inequality in the Samsung Corruption Scandal

Subject: Sociology
Type: Exemplification Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2186
Topics: Globalization, Social Inequality, Social Issues


The media is a powerful communication tool that has been utilized to advance numerous agendas in the contemporary world. It has become an integral and pervasive part of the community as it permeates critical commentary. Its uses range from the normative, informative, pragmatic to ideological. Additionally, the media can be used to reinforce or challenge the dominant hegemony depending on the situations (Freedman, 2008; Holt and Perren, 2011). One of the most analyzed interactions of the media includes its interfaces with the state and the development of social classes. Sociologists have argued that the way the media represents social classes does not focus on the critical class conflicts and social tensions. This essay focuses on the media, state and social class inequality in the Samsung corruption scandal.

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Definition of state

The state can be broadly defined as a supreme corporate entity or political association that arises from the society. The state, therefore, has the control of the people and resources within its geographical jurisdiction (Held, 2013). Its primary roles are to maintain order, national defense, protect private property and work on some limited public works that cannot be achieved through market activity. As such, the state has a critical role in intervening in the free market system to maintain its supreme entity nature or to enforce the laws. Some of the reasons the state intervenes in the free market include to prevent market failure through the establishment of monopolies in the market and to enforce order (Röpke, 2014).

The concept of state has a long history, as it has been described differently by philosophers over time. Therefore, the term has been used in subtly different ways over time. Two of such philosophers who defined the term state were Karl Marx and Max Weber. Weber’s theory of state has a great connection with bureaucracy. He defined the modern state as a system of law and administration that exerts dominion over a community. The community (members of the association) is the inhabitants of a given geographical area that the state extends its authority. He further described the state as a public and independent organization capable of selecting preferences and making its decisions (Beetham, 2013; Hobson, 2000). Therefore, his definition is based on the concept of the state being a legal entity with coercive powers and bureaucracy.

The state owns the monopoly of violence as it can demand allegiance from its citizens using any means possible. Force is the state’s ultimate sanction as it state lacks any predetermined limits to its activities. These views were shared by Marx and Weber. However, Karl Marx differs from Weber in his state interpretations. The primary differences include the outcome of the rise of classes, the property system, and the class antagonisms. Weber viewed the state only as an outcome of innovative tactics and necessity for better management of the society. He saw the state as a simple political organization to maintain order and law (Beetham, 2013). On the other hand, Marx concluded that the state was an exploitation instrument. Therefore, the fundamental differences of the two philosophers were based on the class and class rule that created capitalism according to Marx, while the views of Weber were the contrary – that the state preceded capitalism. 

State Intervention and Communication

The media, as one of the means of communication, often faces numerous state interventions in its operations. These interventions often carry various economic or political objectives such as addressing market failures, promoting economic growth, promoting equality, and reducing or raising prices among others (Röpke, 2014). The interventions can occur through targeted taxes, legislation, direct subsidies, tariffs, quotas and price caps among others (Karagiannis, 2001). These interventions often limit the freedom of the media, which makes it subjective to the demands of the state.

Media regulation involves the use of the legal and extra-legal tools to control the content of the broadcast and print media. The government controls the content through the creation of policy to foster some aspects of behavior, structure or media governance. The regulation can lead to positive effects when it attempts to promote some objectives such as equality or in matters that deal with the state security. However, the regulation is negative in most instances as the government wants to block “undesirable” content that may cast it in a bad light (Feintuck, 2006). In this instance, the state’s role in the national defense is used to control the contents of the media selfishly. The forms of state intervention vary from time and place. They include, but not limited to censorship, patronage, presentation, ideology and conspiracy. However, according to Kim (2016), media conglomerates have come together under centralized ownerships and family connections to create powerful media holdings in most states.

Discussion of social class and inequality

One of the contemporary realities is the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. The capitalistic nature of the modern world has led to a greater depiction of the social stratifications and advancements of inequalities. The social stratification is based on the segregation of individuals into a social hierarchy based on some attributes such as wealth in the class system. These hierarchies of race, class or gender often result in the uneven distribution of resources in favor of a given group (Ore, 2000). It manifests itself through wealth and income inequality, unequal access to cultural resources and education or differential treatments by the government or other social institutions.

Social classes have been abstracted through processual and structural methodologies. The structural approach construes class as fixed matrix of classifications that people move down and up a continuum. They measure social classes through the socioeconomic status indicators such as occupation, wealth, income and education. Therefore, there are four of these classes according to Weber. These are the intelligentsia, the lower-middle class, the working class and the upper class. The classification was expanded by Warner, who first noted that there are three classes (upper, middle and lower) with each of them having an upper and lower component (Nadel, 2013). On the other hand, the processual approach categorizes class through the common and shared experiences of a group of people.

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The media, social class, and inequality

The media represents these classes in ways that do not illustrate the class conflicts or social tensions that underpin the society. Therefore, members of some classes are represented favorably in the media compared to the members of the other classes. For instance, the monarchy is represented positively even on trivial details of their lives. The Queen and the family are often portrayed with mystique and glamor than all other media personalities. Neo-Marxists further argue that the media tends to celebrate wealth and hierarchy in their depictions of social class (Artz and Yahya, 2012). Therefore, the monarch, very wealthy and upper-class individuals are more likely to receive positive media representations. They are treated as individuals who deserve their positions.

The media further advances the inequality conundrum through the content of their publications. The media often focuses on the privileged and wealthy when it focuses on luxury items such as expensive cars, fashion accessories and costly holiday spots (Pollock, 2013). Additionally, the media even dedicated a large space of broadcast and print media to stock market quotations and daily businesses regardless of the fact that very few people own shares and stock. The middle class, on their part, are heavily represented in situation comedies and TV drama. They are also depicted to show the anxiety in the moral decline of the society. The working class and the poor, on the other hand, are often subject to negative media broadcast and attention. The working class is often depicted as problems (such as news about crime, drug addiction, and welfare cheats). The way news on unemployment, poverty or broken families news is reported differs extremely from the glamor and allure given to the upper class (Holt and Perren, 2011). The portrayal of these two classes is often negative and stereotypical.

Case study

The case involves the corruption scandal in South Korea that led to the arrest of the de facto Samsung group’s leader, Lee Jae-Yong. Lee is the leader of the group despite being the official vice president after his father suffered a heart attack in 2014. The billionaire heir to the Samsung Conglomerate was indicted for charges including embezzlement and bribery among other charges in a corruption case that imperiled the tenure of President Park Geun-Hye. The primary allegation of the prosecution was the involvement of Lee to Choi Soon-sil, the president’s friend, in exchange for the government’s support in a merger (The Washington Post, 2017). The president, on her part, was impeached after suspension from office and awaits a ruling that would determine her fate (BBC, 2016). The arrest of Lee Jae-Yong became international news that was covered in multiple news websites with each of them giving details even to the trivial aspects of the life of the billionaire. For instance, the Guardian (2017) reported how he would be moving from his $4 million mansion to a 6.65 square meter cell.

Case study connecting with state theory, social class, and inequality

The case of the arrest of the billionaire illustrates the mechanism that the media advances the notions of inequality. The case was covered by multiple media outlets who gave large details about the life of the Samsung CEO and his ailing father. In as much as the news was about his arrest, most of the content of the articles revolved around the life of Lee and his wealth. It reinforces the concept that the media plays a critical role in creating the class inequality. The upper class is often given a higher than life imperative in the media. Therefore, the media is a tool in advancing the capitalistic hegemony in the modern society while maintaining and expanding the class gaps.

The reporting of the corruption case illustrates that the modern state has moved from the characteristics that were prescribed by Weber and Marx. The state does not impose its influence over the society through violence or force. The impeachment of the president shows that the state may have finally found limits to its activities. In the definition of the state, one would expect that the people in the government who run the state would assume the influence that would make them immune to the consequences of their actions. Additionally, the president could have used her powers to limit the amount of information the media exposed about the case through the mask of national security if the scenario was based on Max and Weber’s concepts. However, the media is seen as a monitor of the state rather than a tool used by the state to advance its capitalist agenda.

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The state is a multifunction permanent structure that has been defined differently by sociologists over the years. Marx Weber and Karl Marx added the attributes of violence, use of force to advance its policies and the unlimited activities of the state to the definition. However, Marx further explained that the state advances class and class antagonisms. The modern society illustrates the effects of capitalism in the form of increasing social stratification. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing every passing day. The media has played a critical role in increasing this gap. An example of a case study that shows the role of the media in maintaining social class and increasing class inequality is the Samsung corruption scandal. However, the case also brings questions to the definitions of the state because the media seems to have outgrown the state control in reporting matters that may lead to the collapse of a government.

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  15. The Guardian. 2017, February 17. “Samsung head arrested over South Korean Choi-gate corruption scandal”. 
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