We had intended on running your article today and had it prepared to post. We have a backlog and get them up as quickly as possible. Good article by the way. Glad you found a home for it on KB.
Libel in Korea and elsewhere
[Cazador 83 asked:] Is there a thread on this website or is there another website that lists all the hagwons that are blacklisted? I tried searching but the search function on that site isn’t so great.[And Provence replied:] The main problem with creating a thread that blacklist hagwons in Korea is that it is illegal. I would love to warn everyone about my hagwon but I am worried they will find out it is me since I am the only foreign this school has had in 3 years. It wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out who blacklisted them. Basically they can blacklist you but you can’t blacklist them, welcome to Korea.
Marmot’s Note: One wonders how long this is going to last before it runs into legal problems. I mean, I know teachers run their own blacklists of hagwons, so what’s fair is fair, but my understanding is that in Korea, printing names like that could be problematic even if the accusations are true. The other thing is that the list is being composed by hagwon recruiters based on claims made by hagwon owners, two groups not known for their business ethics….
UPDATE 2: In our comments section, a real live lawyer says:
The blacklist is quite unlawful. Not only is it a criminal defamation violation under the Criminal Code, but the Labor Standards Act forbids employers to share blacklists. These teachers ought to complain to the prosecution.
Usually, if the material is true, it is protected. Results of court cases can be described, for example. Satire can be protected…if it is blunt or obvious enough. Pubic figures, like politicians are less protected so discussions about them can be as free as possible, but media personnel and celebrities are also in this group. Opinions are protected, but as with satire, it had better be clear that you are stating an opinion.
To avoid libeling someone you could use a pseudonym or avoid using a name altogether. This is NOT a free pass, however. If the person can be identified by your description, you could still be charged with libel.
Why did I begin to care so much about libel that BusanHaps mistook me for an expert? Because of one apparent difference in the way libel works here: truth is not a defence in Korea. Well, that point plus the strangeness of the exceptions or loopholes that the media seems to follow.
As a moderator for KoreaBridge, I needed to judge a post about a recruiter that a new poster disliked. “beware of [Korean city][district of that city][English nickname], aged XX. …doesn’t care about the teacher…JOBS SUCK!!” This post, with the raging ALL-CAPS ending, is clearly an opinion but far too descriptive of the recruiter. The owner of KoreaBridge confirmed we couldn’t accept the post as it was too specific.
Joe McPherson is a blogging acquaintance of mine who had some trouble with a hagwon he worked at. After considerable time and effort, he won a court case against them. To assist others, he blogged about his experiences and named the hagwon. Back to court for him, this time as the defendant. Read The Libel Trap at the Joongang for details.
These examples demonstrate the problem I have with Korean Libel laws. Although the first example is a little overwrought, the first two are attempts at public service announcements. These people are trying to help others avoid their mistakes. Apparently, you can’t do that here. No blacklists. Also, be careful with satire:
Professional media sources know this and tailor their articles accordingly. Investigative journalism is toothless here.
Consider the ‘Babyrose’ scandal. Babyrose, a Korean ‘power blogger’ raved about an air sterilizer and many purchased the product. Turns out, the sterilizer had some unhealthy flaws and Babyrose pocketed money from every sale. Korean news outlets had a field day. Hats off to the Korea Herald which alone of the three papers I read included the blogger’s real name, but none of the papers named the unsafe sterilizer. That would have been a good thing to know.
In June, I read a news article about three ‘bad’ universities. Again, no names were given. The Joongang attempted good investigative journalism but the attempt is useless without the names.
So we know that at least one kind of sterilizer is unsafe and there are at least three bad universities in Korea. One is in Gangwondo and another in Jeju. The malfeasant institutions are relatively unharmed, but all in their niche are suspect.
To further confuse the issue, or maybe out of fear, newspapers have at least once hidden the identity of a person I don’t feel was protected.
Back in 2007, during the problems with US beef being imported, a man, presumably a Korean cattle farmer, threw cow manure over American beef at a Lotte Mart (original here). In the photo, you can see many photographers on hand: clearly this was a PR event and journalists had been invited. Look at the man throwing the manure. If he planned this event and invited the media, why is his face – and those of the other sash-wearers- pixellated
Another complication is described by Chris Backe. He wants to know why the Anti-English Spectrum group has not been charged with libel. The AES has stated in the past that “that foreigners engage in “sexual molestation,” and that they “target children.”” Backe wonders who and how to sue:
Who is the guilty party, though? The AES as a whole? Naver, for not shutting down a website that is against the law / their own principles? The person / people whose posts are allowed to promote a racist / xenophobic agenda? The lawmakers who go on record with the same racist / xenophobic agenda? And how has a foreigner’s reputation been damaged? Both of those things would have to be figured out before a libel case could go forward.
At The New Republic, libel in China and Singapore is mentioned, mostly as a tool used by the government to control dissent.
In the US, it does seem you are well protected from libel; at least senators are. Jon Kyl seems to be fine after claiming 90% of Planned Parenthood’s business comes from abortions. The correct number is 3%. The Colbert Report had fun with this one.