This paper analyses the perceptions of media freedom and responsibility by journalists and politicians in South Korea during the Presidency of Roh Moo-huyn (2003-8). It draws on in-depth interviews with ten journalists and ten politicians with different political affiliations and interests. Findings suggest that both groups had positive appraisals of the country’s media democratisation. For them the media could function as a watchdog on political power without having to fear direct political reprisals for doing so. However, the political press remained partially shackled to specific legacies and economic conditions. The most pressing example is the way the paternal power of conservative media owners challenged the editorial independence of journalists. While the internet media offered some hope to re-balance the power relationship between the conservative and progressive forces, the sensational and hyper-adversarial media motivated by market and political competition emerged as more worrying concerns for the consolidation of democratic political communication in post-transition South Korea. Setbacks in press freedom since 2008 have undermined some of the positive evaluations of the political communication in South Korea, suggesting that the democratic transition in this country resembles ‘a circle rather a straight line’.