Freedom of Speech, Sewol Ferry, and Park's Impeachment
This talk addressed the reasons why Park Geun-hye, recently impeached, was elected as South Korean President despite serious questions about her ability to govern. Lack of freedom of speech was one of the reasons why she was first elected. Ironically, this tarnishing of democratic principles also paralyzed the self-monitoring and mutual checks and balances of the market forces and governancThe speaker Kyung Shin Park started the event by questioning how Park Geun Hae was elected as the president of South Korea. She was unable to make decisions on her own so she relied on her friend Choe. Park failed the citizens twice. The first disappointment is how she lacks in her ability to make independent judgments. The second disappointment was giving her friend power to make decisions that plays in her favor. What was the most shocking fact was that one of the members of candidate Lee Myung Bak’s party, Kim Hae Ho, released a press conference about Park and Choe’s dirty relationship. He was accused of candidate defamation and put in to jail for a year.
The Sewol Ferry incident showed another loss of opportunity. There was a man who was unpaid for his work. He knew that the Sewol Ferry was being used unsafely, overloading many passengers from Incheon to Jeju Island. We question why did he not report this issue and share it with the media? It is because it is highly likely he would have been put into jail. In Korea, there is “truth defamation”. Even though you are speaking the truth, if you ruin someone else’s reputation, then it is seen as unlawful and selfish act.
There are many cases of defamation and suppression of the truth. The law should change that the truth be completely protected from defamation. On November 2015, it was South Korea’s turn to be tested by the UN Human and Political Rights on how truth defamation is still being used. The comity asked the South Korean government to abolish the truth defamation act, but nothing has been done till this day. South Korean citizens were turning back on media and the government during the Sewol Ferry Incident because the media was only fed information and censored under the government in releasing certain information to the citizen through news reports. There have been voices of citizens who believe that there would have been more people saved during the Sewol Ferry Incident if only the media gave more information.
We were also informed that interviews and information given to the citizens are very selective. A man who helped 30-40 students out of the sinking ferry was furious about the way the coastguards were acting during the rescue. The coastguards did not enter the boat because the director above them thought that it was too dangerous to his guards. The man in anger video recorded the coastguards’ behavior, but no one has seen it. The information that he told the interviewers only wrote about his heroic act. This is the sad reality of South Korea’s media.
Sewol Ferry Incident and the 2003 Daegu Subway Fire Incident are two events that show us the consequences of following the manual. The Captain of the Sewol Ferry acted as what the manual said to do in an emergency situation announcing through the mic saying, “Please stay still”. The same thing happened during the subway as the conductor told his passengers to stay still. The manual said to keep his or her master control key at all time. He fled with the key and left over hundred people to die in the incident.
Reflecting on this event that I attended, it made me uncomfortable that citizens of South Korea truly does not have the freedom to say what they want to say. The fact that someone knew about Choe and Park’s relationship and the dangerous overloading of passengers in Sewol Ferry did not have any power shows how information can be overlooked and by law punished if someone speaks the truth by puts down someone’s reputation.
- Jennifer Han, UCI