[Outlook]Questions raised by Minerva

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[Outlook]Questions raised by Minerva

The writer Kim Hoon, 61, was a journalist before he became a novelist. He still writes on manuscript paper, probably because he that is what he got used to as a reporter. Most Korean newspapers used manuscript papers until the late 1980s.

A story from that period has survived. At that time, editors edited reporters’ articles by using a red pen. A reporter could get upset or even angry because the editor changed his articles into something unintended. One day, a writer came up with an idea and wrote an entire article with a red pen.

Looking at the article, the editor became enraged. The reporter’s behavior plainly said, “I write my articles under my name so do not change them as you like.”

Kim published a collection of essays titled “News from the Ocean” last year. In the book, he told of an experience that shows how strict a writer must be about his words. It was when he wrote the novel, “The Song of the Sword.”

The novel starts with the sentence “On every abandoned island, flowers bloomed.” That described a scene when Admiral Yi Sun-sin of the Joseon Dynasty went to the south coast after losing his title. As spring neared, the ocean was filled with empty ships and floating bodies.

The words “flowers bloomed” are quite simple in English but in Korean there can be many different sentences with the same meaning but slightly different nuances depending on which suffixes are used at the end of the subject.

Kim first put “-eun” at the end of the word flowers. Days later, he smoked a pack of cigarettes and changed the suffix to “-i.” The writer explains that it may be a single suffix but the difference between the two is huge.

The one with “-i” is a plain statement. The one with “-eun” conveys the observer’s emotion. If a writer cannot differentiate the two, the sentence becomes dull, he says.

In Korean, a suffix can determine whether a sentence is the writer’s opinion or an objective fact. Suffixes are usually one-syllable and there are not many of them.

Nonetheless, they are complicated enough to make meanings complicated or vague. Kim explains that reading and thinking in Korean boils down to having a command of suffixes. He even says that he wished he could live in a country where there are no suffixes.

Park Dae-sun, 30, was arrested on charges of spreading false information on the Internet under the penname Minerva. On Jan. 28, he filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court, arguing the clause applied to his case was unconstitutional.

Article 47, clause 1 of the electronic communications act begins with “a person who makes ‘communications of falsehood’ with the intention to damage the public good.” Park claims that the concept of public good is unconstitutionally vague.

He also seeks to be released on bail, saying that his writings on the Internet can’t be determined as false. Some people see his case from a totally different perspective.

The office of Democrat Lee Seok-hyun said it would be easier to claim innocence saying the application of the law was wrong, instead of filing an appeal with the Constitutional Court.

The office said that “communications of falsehood” in the clause does not mean spreading false information through the Internet or other communication venues but sending information while pretending to be someone else: for instance, sending messages to the public pretending the messages are from the prosecutors’ office.

According to this argument, deliberating whether Park’s writings on the Internet are false or not is not related to the legal definition of “communications of falsehood.”

We can think about suffixes here as well. The suffix “-eui” between the Korean words for communications and falsehood makes it difficult to interpret the clause. Does it mean that a person communicated pretending to be a person he is not, or that he communicated false information? If “falsehood” in the law refers to falsehood in content of communication, not false identity, it would be more accurate not to use the suffix at all. A suffix that tortured a writer can get many people in trouble.

The court that took Minerva’s case plans to hold pretrial hearings on Feb. 5 to define the issues at hand. If there is a fallacy in applying the law, it must be corrected. The law was established in 1983 when people did not have disputes online. If the law is used for some other purpose than the original, more serious wrongs can occur. Another Minerva could be wrongfully prosecuted.

*The writer is a cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jae-suk

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