SOUTH KOREA: Whiffs of the Old Authoritarianism?

An unfolding political surveillance scandal is rocking South Korea.  And it is beginning to raise doubts about whether South Korea’s democracy is all that vigorous. A few years ago, the government was exposed for conducting illegal surveillance of a businessman critical of President Lee Myung-bak. But that was nothing compared to what appears to be surfacing these days.

Now, according to Arirang News, that same scandal has grown larger as journalists currently on strike from Korean Broadcasting Station (KBS) have obtained over 2,000 reports written by an ethics team following the exposure of such illegal surveillance. As it turns out, the surveillance was not only of government officials but also of journalists, politicians and many other civilians, inclduing labor union leaders. The Blue House responded that 80 percent of the suspect reports were written during President Roh’s presidency — not the current one.

The scandal has widened in scope and is tied to the ongoing strike led by journalists and reporters from three major broadcasting companies. They are Munhwa Broadcasting Corporations (MBC), Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) and YTN, one of South Korea’s 24-hour news channels, and they are protesting for fair journalism and the resignation of their CEOs, believed to be too close to the Lee government.  Among the obtained material appears to be proof that the Presidential Office and the Prime Minister’s Office were closely involved in controlling the media via the appointment of CEOs, either indirectly or directly. Sources also report that, ever since President Lee Myung-bak took office office, all of a sudden CEOs were being pushed put and new ones were coming in. What’s more, many stories critical of the government have either stopped appearing or were toned down; and obstreperous journalists were transferred out of their key positions, sued for obstruction of business, or had their assets have been frozen.

The crisis has landed Korea on the unflattering radar of The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which recently released a statement asserting fraternal support for the union’s struggle for freedom of media independent from government influence and internal oppression. The question being asked is whether the Republic of Korea (its formal name) is reverting to authoritarian ways.
For more information, please visit:
Human Rights Asia
Airirang News
Asia Times
New York Times

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