As many know, the law, regarding libel and slander in South Korea is a problem for many, even if what has been said or printed is true. One well known infamous instance of the libel law at work was the case of Michael Breen, the author, who was sued by Samsung for penning an obvious bit of satire.
Satire, however, takes on a whole new angle when one of the big three newspapers in South Korea prints a “satirical” letter about a public figure that refers to one of the other big newspaper’s libelous attack on the same figure.
Choi Yeong-hae (최영해) an editorial writer at the DongA Ilbo wrote just such a libelous editorial, in the form of a fictitious letter from Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook’s alleged middle-school son, that could very easily become a target of litigation. What is interesting is that while Breen’s satire was mild by all reasonable accounts and not intended to have social or political effects, Choi’s letter is clearly more cogent as libel, in comparison and deliberate in its intent to focus public interest upon the PG’s integrity instead of the reasons behind the libelous attack upon the Prosecutor’s Office in the first place:
DongA Ilbo newspaper on Tuesday ran a sarcastic editorial on the love child allegations of Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook, who was accused by Chosun Ilbo of having a child through an extramarital affair.
Choi Yeong-hae, an editorial writer for the influential paper, wrote a fictional letter to Chae as the prosecutor’s alleged 11-year-old son. In the letter, “Chae’s son” asks him why people are telling the boy that Chae is not his father. . . . Critics bashed Choi for writing a baseless editorial speculating that all the allegations against Chae were true.
“I am appalled at the fact that such gibberish survived to be published in the morning edition. In a paper where numerous people spend hours fixing the smallest of typos, did that look okay? The newspaper itself is a problem,” wrote one Twitter user.
Others expressed disgust at the editorial supposedly using an 11-year-old child to attack someone out of political interest.
“It is grotesque. The absurdity of substituting an editorial for fiction and the childish nature of the ‘literary imagination,’ and the viciousness of using a fifth-grader as a tool for political feud is all combined,” said social critic and Dongyang University professor Chin Jung-kwon. (link)
The Chosun Ilbo’s libelous attack upon the Prosecutor General Chae has grown into the sort of intrigue and yellow journalism that one would expect in the UK, only this one has serious political consequences since this case apparently is the result of the PG’s investigation and prosecution of the NIS for interfering in the last presidential election.
What quite a few people would like to avoid mentioning is that this case is not about a “love-child” or a vetted prosecutor but the motivation for launching a campaign of libel from sources of trusted public new organizations that should be above acting as agents for certain political elements in South Korea. Very little mention is made of the fact that the Chosun Ilbo obtained information about the 11-year-old boy, and his mother, that was illegally obtained for the review of the paper’s editors.
While Breen’s criminal libel case went to trial and was thrown out by the judge on the grounds that there was “no victim.”, there is clearly a victim here in that this sort of “satire” does affect the lives of the 11-year-old boy and his mother, not to mention the work of the Prosecutor’s Office in upholding the law in South Korea. The examples set by the editors of the Chosun Ilbo and DongA Ilbo are of a wholly different category of libel and “satire” than Breen’s case and more menacing. Koreans may no longer worry about police kicking down their doors at night and being hauled away to an uncertain end, however libel seems to be the newest weapon of choice for those with influence in the press.