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February 27 2014

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February 11 2014

South Korean Film About Samsung Worker's Death Slowly Winning Over Moviegoers

A film about the tragic death of a Samsung worker is slowly gaining traction in South Korea, the birthplace of electronics giant Samsung and a country notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung“ for the corporation's enormous power and influence there. 

“Another Promise” faced many hurdles from the very beginning. According to an extensive interview with local media [ko], the director recalls getting countless rejections from investors and production houses, adding that without the help of many generous citizens, the movie would not have been possible.

Poster Image of movie Another Promise, Fair Use Image

Poster for the film “Another Promise.” Fair use.

The film, which depends entirely on crowdfunding and small, private donations, tell the story of a Samsung worker who died from acute leukemia and her father's draining legal battle with the corporation as he struggled to prove that disease was linked with the company's harsh and unsafe working conditions. A series of legal fights continue between Samsung and labor groups who allege that employees suffering from leukemia and other rare diseases contracted them because of working at the company's factories.

Amid rising suspicions [ko] that some multiplex theaters are too afraid to expand the number of screens showing the movie even without pressure from Samsung, the movie seems to have deeply touched and inspired moviegoers, many of whom took their reviews to Twitter and popular South Korean online venues, encouraging other users [ko] to see the movie. 

After his daughter died in the back seat of his own taxi, the father calls the labor attorney and says, “Yumi has just passed away. There is no one around I can tell this.” No one to complain to, no one willing to take their side. There are over 58 cases of similar deaths. Watching this movie is listening to those voices.

It's my second time watching the movie. Since it is so realistic, it almost felt like watching a documentary, especially since I witnessed that particular scene with my very own eyes – where people blocked with the bus. But back then, I merely found that people's cries coming from inside were just bit too noisy. Why did I not take interest in what was going on in this society back then?

After watching a romantic film, people wish it would happen in their real life. However, after watching movies depicting ugly facts of reality, they wish to keep them where they were, as something that exists only on the screen. But actually, when these responses are reversed, people can bring positive changes to the real world. “Another Promise” is a reality which needs to be changed outside a movie theater.

Many of the comments were about the seemingly unfair treatment that the movie is getting – less active promotion by distributors and not many screens are showing the film. People also mentioned that the title of the movie, “Another Promise”, is a satirical use of Samsung’s famous advertising slogan “Another Family”. 

That ad slogan “Another Family” – they would have never imagine this would come back to bite them like a boomerang. I really hope they pay the full price for taking advantage of their “family” in the ad without really taking responsibility for the customers, labor workers and victims.

With members of my group “Power to the People”, I watched the movie “Another Promise”. I've tried to take a confirmation photo proving that we watched it, but there was no movie poster displayed inside the theater, and not even one banner stand. And they say the movie is screened only twice a day. What a pathetic situation. 

January 31 2014

Have Acne? South Korea Will Tax Your Treatment

Who has the right to tax your pimple outbreak? In South Korea, it is the finance ministry.

Beginning of February, a new tax system that imposes a 10-percent tax on surgeries having to do with appearance and beauty will go into effect in South Korea. This so-called beauty tax not only includes well-known plastic surgeries such as nose job, double-jaw surgery or lip augmentation, but also ordinary skin care, such as acne treatment.

New taxation which was introduced last summer claims that it would rein in the country's rampant cosmetic surgeries, but it has been widely unpopular from the moment of its proposal. Critics argue [ko] that the scheme is simply a plan to increase tax revenue decorated as a public health law. Several web users pointed out [ko] that the tax won't tackle society's obsession with looks and people who have the means or who desperately want such procedures will not be affected. 

One the eve of the plan going into effect, one tax – 10 percent on pimple treatments – seems to have rekindled people's opposition to the bill. Below are some tweets from frustrated net users: 

As if it is not bad enough to have acne and hair loss. Now, we have to pay a tax for having those.  

The hyenas prowling, looking for things to tax, finally found the item – pimples!

To @mosfkorea [the official account of Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance]: Who do you think you are to tax my pimples? 

So the Ministry of Strategy and Finance's logic is this: Since they don't think acne is a serious case of skin disease, whatever that cure the acne problem is categorized as a “beauty-related” surgery, it will be taxed. It was ridiculous enough to hear about the tax on cosmetic surgery and now this! Whatever the reason you give, will you just please stop taxing more? 

The medical community seems enraged by the news as well. The Korean Medical Association circulated the poster below explaining their frustration. The first sentence in bold letter laments that it is not the medical professionals, but the finance ministry who is making a judgement call on how to understand acne – not as a serious skin condition, but as a beauty-related inconvenience. Net users shared the image via Twitter and made fun of the current government's economic motto of “Creative Economy”, one user even invoking current President Park Geun-hye's notorious nickname “chicken”:

Taxing pimples… That is indeed “Creative”. 

Imposing an additional tax on skin treatment is bit too much. Acne patients are already paying considerable amounts of money to get proper treatment. And most of them are either teenagers in puberty or in their early 20s. It turns out that the chicken administration's “creative economy” actually means “creative ways to tax things”.

There is no country like ours where society is completely obsessed with looks. And the ones who helped shaped our society into how it this now tax each item related to enhancing ones look. This is ridiculous. 

Wow… How far will they go? Will the next step be taxing nail care and body slimming? It is not a sin to have some pimples. 

January 29 2014

Samsung Withdraws Controversial University Quota Policy in South Korea

Image of Info Session/Recruitment Scene

A recruitment and information session in South Korea for Samsung. Uploaded by Flickr User Samsungtomorrow (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

South Korea isn't notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung” for nothing. 

Amid harsh criticism, Samsung has withdrawn a new hiring policy [ko] that would have allowed applicants recommended by their university's presidents to skip ahead in the recruiting process. The change would have also put a cap on the number of students from each university using that recommendation.

Although the recommendation does not guarantee a position in Samsung, it gives a significant head start by allowing students to skip the résumé screening process – a big deal in a country where Samsung, one of the most coveted employers, receives several hundred thousand applications each year. There is even a market for books and costly crash courses [ko] on how to get high scores on Samsung's standard exam. 

Pointing out the quota was given disproportionately against [ko] women and colleges in certain provinces, net users on Samsung's home turf lashed out not only at the corporation, but also at universities, which were either elated or depressed by the quota dictated to them by Samsung. Two tweets below may best reflect one of the most frequently seen reactions from South Korea's Twittersphere about the Samsung's university quota:

The company are now acting as if they were the university's overlord and can do such an arrogant thing like “setting a quota for a university”. This shows that a monopolistic economic system has formed, prevailed and held a tight grip on our society. Additionally, it also reflects that hope is scarce in our current situation.

The moment that universities accept Samsung's proposal, the universities are no longer the place for academia, but they will have become a docile supplier manufacturing disposable goods for the company. 

January 28 2014

South Korea: ‘Less is More', Net Users Turn Sour on Typical Movie Poster

French Poster Image of Movie 'Frozen'. Fair Use Image

French Poster Image of Movie ‘Frozen'. Fair Use Image

A massive Disney hit movie, Frozen is rapidly gaining traction also in South Korea. However, more young Koreans are turning sour on typical Korean-style movie poster, which has long been criticized for being either too confusing or overly interrupted [ko] by extra-bold text dropping names or media/net users’ reviews ridden with cliche [ko]. One net user from the TodayHumor site compared different versions [ko] of Frozen poster (allegedly tailored for audiences in US, France, Japan, China and Korea) and Koreans exchanged heated discussions on what has made Korean movie distributors select such cluttered posters as one can see below. (In comparison, on the left is the poster released in France which has been lauded by many net users for its artistic simplicity) 

Three Korean Poster Images of Movie 'Frozen'. Fair Use Image

Three Korean Poster Images of Movie ‘Frozen'. Fair Use Image

 

January 24 2014

Massive Credit Card Data Theft Hits 20 Million South Koreans

Image by Flickr User Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flickr user Don Hankins (CC BY 2.0)

An unprecedented large-scale theft of customer data in South Korea has affected 20 million people, or about two-fifths of the country's entire population.

The data was lifted by a consultant working for a personal credit rating firm, Korea Credit Bureau, who accessed the user databases of three major credit card companies and sold the information to phone marketing companies.

The dimension [ko] of the confidential information stolen is truly terrifying: Not only basic information such as name, phone number and social security number were taken, but also critical data that could lead to serious abuses, such as credit card expiration date, annual income, residential status, credit limit, credit history and credit records. In some cases, as many as 21 kinds of personal information were stolen.

Right after the news broke, furious customers not only flocked [ko] to the card companies’ local stores, but shared via Twitter a very long list of their stolen personal data, followed by sarcastic comments and downright curses aimed at the firms and authorities: 

Name, social security number, card number, home phone, home address, cell phone number, work address, work position, work place official name, residential status, password question, credit card limit, info of credit card by other firms, credit rating, bank account linked to the card… This kind of info was stolen. But still they say don't worry because at least the CVC (Card Verification Code) number was not stolen. I just want to punch them in the month. 

@_2on_:성명 주민번호 휴대전화 자택전화 자택주소 직장정보 카드번호 유효기간 카드정보 결제정보 신용한도 연소득 이메일 직장번호 직장주소[...] 비번도 알려줘라

@_2on_: My name, social security number, cell phone number, home phone and address, work place info, card number, expiration data, card info, card payment info, credit limit, annual income, email, work number, work address have been stolen[...] Why don't you just give away my password as well?

Authorities try to assuage public anger by stressing that the breach has not yet lead [ko] to any real abuses, and several days later, released a package of counter measures [ko], which included more severe punishments placed on the affected firms (suspension of business and higher fines); limitations on financial firms from collecting unnecessary customer information and trading it to a third party; an extension of card customer service hours; and a five-year limit on storing previous customer data. The card companies vow to offer full compensation for the losses and reissue new cards upon request. Not many are satisfied.  

They need to know that is is much easier now to find someone whose info has not been stolen. Reissuing credit cards upon quest? If that is the most effective way, then they should replace every customers’ cards, not just someone who requests it.

The most unpopular measure regulators announced was creating an additional step in the identification process, meaning more hassle for customers: 

It is the companies who leaked the info, but it is the customers who have to bear with the inconvenience caused by the incident. What weird logic. RT @tebica: Authorities are now announcing comprehensive measures against the personal information breach and one of their measures, “adoption of one more identification step when making credit card transactions”, makes people shudder.  

It is not the first data theft of a national scale, but is certainly one of the largest. Many called for more fundamental measures. Twitter user @leesns tweeted:

How many times have we seen thefts of personal information? The current social security number system no longer works effectively in identifying users, but instead has became a tool that can easily be abused by criminals. We should either revamp or scrap the social security number system. And re-issue every credit card and stop firms from trading collected customers’ info.

January 23 2014

South Korea: I Would Rather Sell My Personal Info

Personal information of about 20 million people, which amounts to two fifth of the entire South Korean population, has been compromised in the country's worst identity theft. Customers of the affected three major credit card firms gasped at the sheer extensiveness of the breach; it is not just the user's real name, home/work address, cellphone/home/work phone number, social security number, but in many cases, even user's credit limit, credit history, credit card expiration date, and credit records have been stolen. Korean online venues flooded with angry users’ comments and one net user even set up a fake website entitled ‘Trade My Info; the No. 1 Online Personal Info Trading Venue’ [ko]. Its intro sarcastically proclaims that instead of letting the identity thief sell your personal info, users should rather trade their info by themselves and make a a modicum of money out of it. Most of the site's links lead to related news articles on the breach. An extensive post on Korean reactions to the country's worst ID breach will soon be posted on Global Voices.

January 21 2014

Korean Seniors Prompt Boycott of McDonald and Get McResolution

Korean elderly have made headlines in New York City as they loiter at McDonald's each day, starting early in the morning till well after dark, ordering only fries or coffee. After they were kicked out for hampering business, some in the Korean community called for a boycott of the restaurant.

The New York Times story on elderly squatters in McDonald's went abuzz over the weekend, and McDonald's reacted quickly, putting out the fire by Monday by reaching a “McResolution!“. They promised extended sitting hours for the elderly during less-busy times and even to collaborate with local seniors centers to provide transportation to and from the restaurant.

However, Koreans, who are familiar with senior citizens overstaying at fast food stores in one of the most overcrowded and busiest cities in the world, South Korean capital Seoul, seem to understand McDonald's tough choice. Here are some reactions from South Korean online venues.

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Flicker User Kansir (CC BY 2.0)

The McDonald's fiasco. I really hope people don't bring ‘race’ in to the equation. It is not like they were kicked out because of their race/nationality. By emphasizing that it is ‘Koreans’ who were being kicked out, they are actually embarrassing themselves. This is so ugly, and just embarrassing. I can see why this happen.

The reason why I am not rooting for McDonald's boycott in New York is because how they approach this problem is just so typical. Jongmyo Area in Seoul is packed with elderly who loiter at fast food chains. It is not Korean “culture”, but a problem Korean society has. It is just deplorable they brought it over and repeat it in another country.

Net users cast doubt on the Korean Parents Association of New York – a group who initiated the boycott and question whether they are eligible to represent the whole Korean community in general. Some from the group, notably the chairwoman, are accused of being extreme right-wingers who infamously blocked a peaceful protest against the election manipulation scandal held in New York last autumn. User @hippietech wrote [ko]:

자극적인 제목으로 민족성 자극하는 저질 기사. 한인사회 발끈한 적 없습니다. 몇몇 노인들이 진상짓 했을뿐

I see so many sensational, trashy reports which provoke ethnicity issues. No. Korean communities have not been angered by [the McDonald's case] and it is just a handful of rouge seniors who made a scene.

January 20 2014

South Korea Accused of Rewriting History in High School Textbook

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Image by Kopachris, Deviant Art (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) 

A conservative high school history textbook in South Korea that puts a positive spin on some of the country's most controversial periods of history, such as Japan's colonial rule, has been a source of heated debate for several weeks, with the government being accused of favoring textbooks that support their political beliefs and paint a rosier view of various periods of history.

The textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co has been lambasted not only for its inaccuracy, but for whitewashing the past flaws of certain interest groups. Critics say the sheer volume of errors – over 750 mistakes – in the textbook are serious enough to disqualify it as a legitimate learning tool.

Parents and students protested hard against several schools who have decided to adopt Kyohak's textbook and finally succeeded in revoking the decision. However, the Ministry of Education has offered excuses for the publishers, first by claiming that it was not the final version. Even after it was revealed that Kyohak still has not applied the required adjustments to the textbook and its revised version contained about 350 errors, the ministry again embraced them, saying that it was a trial version. According to local report, one historian said [ko] “in his 22 years as a history teacher, he has never heard of such thing as a ‘textbook trial version’, and the ministry’s outlandish claim renders him speechless.”

The scope [ko] of the errors are wide: misleading descriptions of Japanese imperial rule of Korea, incorrect names of locations on a map, and the false claim that the United States had a colony in the Indochina region. Another noteworthy mistake includes an inaccurate description of President Park Geun-hye’s father, the late military dictator Park Chung-hee: the textbook says Koreans’ average per capital income reached 10,000 US dollars under his rule, when it should be 1,000.

The textbook also claims that the so-called comfort women – young teenagers and women, many of whom were Korean, who were forced into prostitution by the Empire of Japan during World War II to “comfort” the troops – “followed the Japanese army around”, thereby implying that they have voluntarily choose to serve the army for the money. There is even an error suspected to have been lifted from an online blog post.

The New York Times recently added fuel to the fire with an editorial entitled “Politicians and Textbooks” in which the paper accused President Park of downplaying Korean collaboration with Japanese imperialists during Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The editorial concluded that Park, along with Japanese President Shinzo Abe, are “pushing to have high school history textbooks in their countries rewritten to reflect their political views.” The Korean Foreign Ministry fired right back, saying it will “take necessary steps against the New York Times with regard to the erroneous facts.”

Enraged Koreans commented as below:

Kyohak Publishing’s textbook is only worth as much as the ruling Saenuri party’s campaign flyers. 

After watching Chairman of Kyohak Publishing Yang Cheol-woo’s interview on the JTBC Sohn Suk-hee’s news program, I can totally see how that garbage, pro-Japanese imperialist book was born. He kept claiming their textbook has no flaws and it is the most accurate book available. He even accused other textbooks of being “left-leaning”.

More concerns arose as reports came out [ko] that immediately after Kyohak Publishing’s history textbook had been rejected by parents and students, the government and ruling Saenuri party began pushing to publish it and impose the textbook on a national level. Currently, students, parents and teachers have a say in the textbook selection process, and have a choice among several different books. The political opposition denounced the move [ko] as an attempt to stifle points of view that differ from their own, and commented that a one-size-fits-all textbook system is a favorite of authoritarian regimes who can easily manipulate its content. The most notable cases of the one national textbook system would be North Korea and Russia. 

When they found out that Kyohak’s history textbook had been completely rejected by students, parents and teachers, the proper way to respond is by looking back at their flaws and feeling shameful and apologetic. But how did they react? It is as if they are seeking revenge, they are pushing to switch to a universal textbook system. This is an utter disregard for history and disrespect for the people.

Twitter influencer and historian Jeon Woo-yong (@histopian) tweeted a series of messages regarding this issue:

Even the monarchy of the Joseon Dynasty did not interfere with chroniclers’ works. It is those in power who should be afraid of history, not history that clings on to power. The reason why those in power want to exert control over history is either because they are ashamed to face history, or they dont even bother to make themselves feel unashamed'. 

January 09 2014

South Korea: Political Revenge against Whistleblower?

Kwon Eun-hee, a policewoman and ex-chief investigator at Seoul Suseo Police station, revealed last summer that her team had received pressures and ‘unreasonable orders’ from superiors to reduce the scope of an investigation into the spy agency election manipulation scandal. Although net users lauded Kwon, her bold act seems to have taken its toll; local media reports [ko] that Kwon has failed to get a promotion which was considered ‘a sure thing for someone with Kwon’s resume and qualifications’, adding that if that happens one more time, by law she would be forced to leave her position in four years. Many suspect it is a politically-motivated decision, including prominent citizen journalist Media Mongu who commented it is ‘a scary revenge’ [ko] and embedded a highlight video of Kwon's revelations.

January 03 2014

South Korean Lawmaker Proposes Bill Denying Right to Counsel for Anti-State Criminals

A ruling party lawmaker, Kim Jin-tae proposed a bill [ko] that either denies or greatly limits the right to counsel for criminals who are accused of committing ‘anti-state activities'. It has already drawn harsh criticism from civil rights lawyers who call it ‘utterly unconstitutional idea’ [ko] and sparked heated debates in major South Korean online venues. Vice chairman of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society's Judicial Committee, Lee Jae-hwa (@jhohmylawtweeted [ko] as below. 

[After linking to news article [ko] about the bill] Kim Jin-tae is totally delusional. What would be his next step? He may even propose a bill legalizing torture.

January 02 2014

South Korean Authorities Discredit Dissenting Voices as ‘Not-Real’ News

Who gets to decide what is real news or not? It seems the South Korean government thinks they have enough authority to do so. 

The country's media regulation authorities have discredited several news programs, calling them “not real news”. Among many programs that found themselves a target were Newstapa, an investigative news site which made groundbreaking revelations in 2013; Gobal News, a young news site runs by an independent citizen-funded station, just like Newstapa; and several news shows aired by the Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) radio.  

The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) released its report on the media landscape on December 30 and disqualified some as “non-real news” (or “not legit” news) and vowed [ko] to send warnings to those broadcasters in order to push them to make major adjustments in their formats. The government's explanation was that it is illegal for special-purpose stations (i.e. traffic or religion channels) to adopt the form of “news, news anchors, and journalists” and for local channels (which air in a specific province or city) to report on general, state-level social issues – in other words, they can't use the format of news when covering any subjects that are deemed outside of their area of coverage.

Journalists and media workers lambasted the decision, commenting [ko] that the current journalism environment has turned as hostile as that of the 1980s when notorious military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally cracked down on any forms of dissent and stifled journalism.

A media industry veteran and currently investigative reporter at Newstapa, Choi Kyung-young (@kyung0), wrote [ko] as below. Newstapa (English name: Korea Center for Investigative Journalism) made stunning feats of journalism last year by disclosing critical facts about the election manipulation scandal and elite tax haven scheme, but was discredited by authorities as “not real news”. 

[...] 어디서 유사언론학을 들었는지 모르겠으나 “정부가 무엇이 보도인지를 규정하면 그 나라에는 보도는 사라지고 선전만 남게된다” http://t.co/Ww3nIpXUUT

[...] I dont know where they learnt about the definition on “non-legit news”, but bear in mind that once the government gets to decide what is news or not, news reports in that nation disappears and only propaganda is left. 

CBS (Christian Broadcasting System, not related to the US media company of the same name) is a non-profit organization that has a history of being the first independent radio station in the country. Although it has a Christian background, some of CBS's news programs have been praised for unbiased reports.

One of the hosts for CBS's news program, Kim Eung-gyo, wrote that the only comparable crackdown on media to this current one is the 1980′s shutdown when the military regime forced CBS to shutter by merging them and other independent broadcasters with state-run TV. The station reopened seven years later:

As suspected, they provoked CBS. They branded these programs – CBS News, Jeong Kwan-yong's Current Issues, Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show – “not real news” done without proper permission. It seems like the ghost of [military dictator] Chun Doo-hwan – who halted CBS which has aired news since 1954 - has returned to this era.

Media critic Yoo Chang-seon (‏@changseon) criticized [ko] authorities’ guidelines as outdated:

방송통신위원회의 이러한 발상, 참 낡고 낡았다 하는 생각이 듭니다. 종교채널이든 경제채널이든 교통채널이든, 그 방송을 듣고 보는 사람들 모두 세상 돌아가는 일을 알아야 합니다. 어느 분야 하나 서로 연결되지 않는 것이 없는 세상입니다[...]

Korea Communications Commission's decision reveals that their thinking cannot be more outdated. Whether it is a religious channel, an economic channel or a traffic channel, the audience should be able get information on what is happening now in the world by watching those channels. Moreover, everything, every industry are closely connected with each other[...]

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Image by Free Press Pics (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Gobal news and Newstapa both belong to RTV, [ko] an independent TV station that heavily depends on citizen contributions and donations. RTV tweeted as below right after the news about “not-real news” broke. Gobal news revealed [ko] that while the move was made against them, the government provides generous benefits to TV stations run by major newspapers who strongly support the government and its policies:

This signals the start of muzzling media critical of the government. It means that they will allow people to watch only the network TVs and those TV stations run by conservative newspaper companies [referring to Chosun, Joonang and Donga Newspaper]

RTV's journalists said that they will resist against [ko] authorities’ guidelines, and many citizens expressed the same. Pyo Chang-won, a former professor at the National Police University and now influential talk show host, tweeted as below. 

CBS radio and its program “Kim Hyun-jeong's News Show” have played the role of real journalism program by delivering facts and sharp analyses to audiences. I fully support and want to encourage them, and every fiber of my body will be resisting against the KCC's anachronistic oppression of the media – which would be more befitting of a dictatorial era. Cheer up. 

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