Korean Voyeurs Provoke Net Boycotts, Backlash

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Korean Voyeurs Provoke Net Boycotts, Backlash

When Paik Ji-young held a press conference last December regarding her former boyfriend's release of a videotape of the couple engaged in sexual intercourse, many reporters were largely unsurprised. Ms. Paik had reached the peak of her career earlier in the year with her song "Sad Salsa" when the videotape was released and her popularity plummeted. Rather than raising her rights as a victim of invasion of privacy, Ms. Paik, like her predecessor, Oh Hyun-kyung, made an official apology on national television for "a moral violation" of societal norms. A couple weeks later, the videotape featuring her was found to be on sale at an American on-line auction company for $9. Now, the tape is being montaged with clips from the artist's music videos and distributed throughout Japanese adult sites.

Whether it is someone close to you or a stranger secretly recording the video, hidden cameras are boosting society's obsession with voyeurism. It may have started out as a genuine questioning of other people's lives, but the mollae kamera, or the hidden camera, has now become a "national syndrome" targeting ordinary Koreans in places as diverse as elevators and women's bathrooms in local public high schools.

The tradition of the hidden camera in Korea has its roots in television. Several years ago, an MBC prime-time entertainment program drew hordes of viewers by broadcasting the private lives of the nation's most famous celebrities on national television. With a small camera pre-installed behind a picture frame or a clock, the organizers of the show recorded television personalities who were placed in the most bizarre situations. That was just the beginning. Then there were the scandals involving famous women like Ms. Oh and Ms. Paik.

Now, with fierce competition between local internet adult entertainment sites, the situation has worsened considerably. To secure memberships, these companies take the risk of breaking the law by featuring explicit subjects and themes. The hidden camera is their main tool. The footage secretly recorded in love hotels has gained such popularity on the web that one internet adult broadcasting company has based its entire content on the idea; everything on the station looks as though it has been shot by hidden cameras.

Kim Joo-hyung, a staff member at a local adult internet broadcasting channel says hidden cameras are the best selling device that the Korean pornography industry has stumbled upon.

"Pornography in Korea has evolved to the point where expectations are much too high to simply feature a woman stripping off her clothes. Hidden cameras seem to be the best solution to this stagnation because people enjoy peeking into other people's lives," he says.

Mr. Kim says he is concerned that this discussion will eventually lead to adult industry-bashing, which is in fact already happening. Starting this year, there has been a series of legal charges brought against the heads of local internet entertainment companies, including those of Banana TV and Molka TV. These charges concerned the level of lewdness on the shows aired on the stations.

"I think there is a genuine pleasure in the activity of observing another act while having your identity completely hidden. I don't think it's very different from the pleasure you get by sitting in a cafe listening to other people's conversation or watching a film even. The hidden camera is just an exaggerated version of these experiences," Mr. Kim says, noting that such a phenomenon is part of the trial and error process that takes place in shaping a healthy adult culture.

However some persons have a different viewpoint. Park Jae-young, the representative of Antimolka (www.antimolka.org), the Internet site trying to organize a boycott of stations providing footage from hidden cameras, says he is very much disturbed about the fast spread of adult homepages promoting wholesale voyeurism.

"The Internet has the potential to turn into an intrusive medium when it comes to the issue of privacy. It's easily accessible and the speed of distribution is about twice as fast as other media. So when it comes to the spread of illicit material, it gets very difficult to control." He explains that though there are Electronic Media Corporation Regulations providing basic guidelines for online censorship, their standards are too vague. And because the Internet as a medium is still in its developmental phase, a lot of offenders manage to get away with anything.

The main problem with the hidden camera lies in the near impossibility of tracing its origin. Because most victims are not aware that tapes featuring them are floating around cyberspace, in most cases charges made by civic groups are rejected. These cases cannot be filed unless the person directly concerned agrees to file a lawsuit against the company for defamation. According to Mr. Park, however, there have been only 14 cases registered so far where the victims of hidden cameras have reported to cyber police after finding out about the incidents on adult entertainment sites.

With new technology, one can easily capture objects that are located within a 10 meter radius with a 1 mm lens. This means that a hole about the size of your fingertip can capture just about every detail of what goes on in your bedroom. It's a daunting realization if you consider that the equipment for this can easily be bought in local discount electronics shops.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the resistance to such sites say that the best weapon to fight the hidden camera with is simply not to watch the footage they shoot. If you get hold of certain website addresses, do not pass it on to other people. And if you do see it, then report it to the "antimolka" web site.

Mr. Park emphasized that because it is netizens who hold the most power in the on-line community, not legal organizations, it is imperative that every Internet user participate in creating a safe cyber environment.

by Park Soo-mee

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