SEOUL, JULY 17 -- Several hundred Koreans crowded into a stuffy auditorium yesterday afternoon to demand an end to government control of television news broadcasts.
A few weeks ago, such a meeting would have been tense and sparsely attended, if it took place at all. But since President Chun Doo Hwan announced July 1 that he would permit direct elections and other freedoms in this tightly controlled society, Koreans in every field have been demanding, with considerable passion, a share of the promised democracy.
Book publishers, schoolteachers, factory workers, slum dwellers, reporters, even television soap opera producers have rallied to demand more freedom, less censorship and a greater say in their own future.
"The people have been under control for so long that they are desperate to feel freer," said Hong Seung Chik, sociology professor at Korea University.
The government's reaction to this ferment has been mixed. In some areas, such as control over newspapers, officials have said they are considering liberalization.
In others, such as the 33 labor unions that have sprung up during the past fortnight, the government seems if anything to be taking a tougher line than before. And in every case, the regime is warning Koreans not to expect too much too fast.
"You should wisely cope with the current situation in which there has been an upsurge in unrealistic public expectations," Chun told his Cabinet Wednesday. In particular, he warned his ministers to be on guard against "radical leftist elements" who would sow "social confusion."
Longtime opponents of the government worry, too, remembering that Army generals in 1961 and 1980 staged military coups on the grounds that democracy was spinning out of control.
"It is one of our problems -- so many demands from so many organizations," Regina Pyon, spokeswoman for the Catholic Justice and Peace Committee, said. "It could give an excuse to the government or the military, so we are anxious about it."
At the same time, many activists remain skeptical that Chun will fulfill his promises, although hundreds of political prisoners have been released. Activists believe that they must continue to apply the kind of pressure that forced the government concessions in the first place.
Government domination of television broadcasts has been a source of particular irritation to many government opponents, from the lengthy reports on Chun's daily activities to "the endless propaganda of the Olympics, all day long," as one viewer complained. Most Koreans are proud that the Olympics will be held in Seoul in 1988, this viewer said, but weary of what some see as government attempts to use the games for political purposes.
With every channel under their control, officials have decided what news should be covered and how.
"It was not only one-sided, not only unfair, often it was wrong," said Park Young Sook, head of the Women's Boycott Movement directed against the government-controlled Korean Broadcasting System television network known as KBS. "Always they distort and fabricate and dramatize and give people the wrong idea."
The government guidance to television paralleled its directions to newspapers, which were regularly told what to print and what not to print, how large a headline to use for which story and which student leaders should be labeled "pro-communist," according to a leaked set of instructions published in an underground magazine.
But on television, control extended beyond news to advertisements and melodrama, with class conflict and politics generally off limits. Producers in the past few days have called for the lifting of restrictions that have allowed only "insipid and unrealistic dramas."
Since Chun's promises of democratization, viewers have been surprised a few times. Opposition leader Kim Dae Jung was interviewed on the air for the first time in seven years, and KBS broadcast a mild debate between ruling and opposition politicians -- another first.
But with an election promised for the fall, activists said more far-reaching changes are imperative. "Of all the freedoms, freedom of the press is most important," Pyon said. "Without that, we cannot achieve democracy."
On Wednesday the Christian Broadcasting radio network, in violation of government regulations, carried six minutes of news. The government said the broadcast was "very regrettable" and could lead to revocation of the station's license. It noted that the government had been considering changing its rules to allow the Christian network to broadcast news.
Publishers are asking that the ban on hundreds of books be lifted. "They don't like the author? Banned. They don't like the title? Banned," one dissident said. "Sometimes if the cover is red, it will be banned . . . . What are the criteria? We don't know."
More than 1,000 schoolteachers met Tuesday evening to demand that teachers no longer be fired for opposing government policies. They also urged that teachers be given the right to form unions.
At taxi companies, small textile factories and even travel agencies, workers have been striking, protesting and trying to form new unions, according to officials and Korean newspapers.
The Labor Ministry warned recently that leaders of such strikes will be arrested. Justice Minister Chung Hae Chang warned against taking collective action to solve problems. "Such practices should be controlled and eliminated because they serve as an obstacle in the current national efforts to promote reconciliation and achieve democratization," he said.
At the same time, the government said that teachers may now be hired even if they participated in antigovernment rallies. And the information minister said the government may seek to replace the basic press law, which provides the basis for much of the government's control over the media.