Media freedom in South Korea remains somewhat constrained due to the government’s ongoing attempts to censor online content. Under its increasingly strict interpretation of the 1948 National Security Law, supporters view its necessity as a defence strategy against North Korea and any possibility of communist rising in South Korea. But its critics observe an oppression tool being used to suppress criticism of the government and continuance of the political status quo. In South Korea, defamation is a criminal offence and charges are applied to anyone who expresses criticism of the government or partakes in any anti-state groups or activities.
In the latest controversy to emerge in South Korea’s political world, prosecutors are in the midst of arresting South Korean journalist, Choo Chin-woo, for publishing media that slandered and spread false information regarding the brother of the current South Korean President Park Geun-hye with “an aim of blocking her election.”
Political satire is now finding steady pace among young Koreans who welcome the much-needed political satire programs in the rising bitterness against government corruption. In April 2011, Naneun Ggomsuda (translated as ‘I am a petty-minded creep’)– or also referred to as the ‘Naggomsu phenomenon’ – is an online podcast founded by four progressives (or liberals) in politics and journalism, which has garnered a strong following among young audiences. It famously lampoons government issues and members, and provides a platform for awareness and exchange of ongoing problems of political parties and major media outlets. Chung Bong-ju, one of the founding members and a popular political commentator, was arrested in late 2011 after being charged of spreading rumours about former President Lee Myung-bak’s connection to stock fraud.
The risqué commentary on politics, which has gained a strong support from young Koreans, have prodded other comedy shows to make such moves. Other sketch comedy shows, such as “Gag Concert”, a long-running sketch show known for its witty and safer topics, have started to delve into political themes. In January 2013, the Korea Communications Standard Commission (KCSC) reprimanded “Gag Concert” for not using honorific terms while instead using rude tones when addressing the current president Park.
In another recent lampooning incident on Saturday Night Live (SNL) Korea, South Korea’s version of the American comedy show, a famous conservative commentator and media critic, Byun Hee-jae, filed a lawsuit for defamation against SNL Korea after being ridiculed on one of SNL’s segment in what he indicted was “illegal news [that]manipulated public opinion.” Netizens were quick to ridicule Byun’s blatant reaction whose response to common and frequent political satire has “damaged the country’s development of a political sense of humour.”
Satire, when pushed to the limits, can violate the decency of broadcasting. Indeed, satire is the weapon of comedy shows. But what SNL does is, in fact, ‘parody’. Parody gives the show protection. These sketches would not be considered defaming since they are not claimed to be factual. Mr Choo’s potential arrest has garnered much criticism from the public, commenting that such convictions are only possible in “a backward country ruled by an authoritarian government bent on stifling freedom of expression.”
Satire and wit can cut through a political drum that is full of manufactured cobwebs of headlines and messages. However, satire in political analysis has always had its place in the world, and its role has become just as important today. In South Korea, satire has been an essential tool that sheds light on corruption, nepotism, and the extravagant lifestyles of the political elite. It pushes the limits of freedom to a new e-platform that is accessible to civil society. South Korea’s political world will need to face the growing number of more engaged and angry young Koreans sooner or later.
by Hazel Mejia