[Viewpoint] When satire really hurts

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[Viewpoint] When satire really hurts

The Internet podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda,” or “I’m Petty-Minded Creep,” appeared to succeed on its U.S. tour. It attracted audiences of about 1,000, a rare feat for shows geared toward the Korean-American community, and the audiences were pretty passionate.

Recently, the show had an additional boost. A police probe revealed that a Grand National Party lawmaker’s aide was in charge of the cyberattack on the National Election Commission’s Web site on the day of the Seoul mayoral by-election. The hosts of the show had already suggested that kind of official involvement in the attack.

The show was facing criticism for spreading conspiracy theories after talking about “a child with small eyes.” (The hosts of the show had claimed that President Lee Myung-bak had an affair in 2007 and a love child with Erica Kim, a Korean-American lawyer who accused the then-presidential candidate Lee of being involved in the BBK financial scam of illegal stock-price rigging. Allegedly, the child had the same small eyes as the president.)

The conservatives, including the administration and the ruling party, were disapproving and also very worried about the show’s popularity and its spreading of political rumors. A series of measures was announced to combat it, but they all appeared to be useless. The Korea Communications Standards Commission recently created a division for the censorship of smartphone apps. It’s a mistake to consider censoring apps. The commission said it wanted to screen violent and obscene materials, but they can be controlled through existing laws. That is why the measure was suspected to be directly targeting “Naggomsu,” as the podcast is called.

To better counter “Naggomsu,” it is necessary to get down to the show’s roots. Kim Ou-joon, a founder of a political parody site and the creator of the show, believes the Lee administration caused the suicide of former president Roh Moo-hyun by ordering him investigated. “Because I could not stand the situation, I made a decision while crying alone behind a fire truck during a street memorial for Roh that I will take the world into my hands,” Kim once said. To help Moon Jae-in, the closest aide of Roh, win next year’s presidential race, Kim started the podcast.

To satisfy its political cause, “Naggomsu” zeroed in on the BBK scandal, which dogged Lee during the 2007 campaign. A journalist and a former lawmaker, dubbed “BBK snipers,” were recruited to present all kinds of theories. Millions were captivated by the conspiracy theories, and they think the allegations are convincing. They buy the theories because they think the truth was covered up and they don’t trust the prosecution’s investigation.

In fact, questions about the BBK scandal, which first began in 2007, still linger. Allegations continue to drift around that President Lee was the actual owner of DAS and the expensive land in Dogok-dong, southern Seoul. Although it is hard to pin down, there are still some devious unexplained details.

For example, DAS filed a lawsuit against BBK in a U.S. court to get its investment back but lost. And yet BBK’s hero, Kim Kyung-joon, the younger brother of Erica Kim, sent 14 billion won ($12.1 million) from his Swiss bank account to DAS, although he won the suit. (The U.S. court made an issue out of it.)

Then Erica Kim came to Korea and said she and her brother lied in 2007 accusing Lee of being the actual owner of BBK. The Korean prosecution decided not to press charges against her, and she returned to the U.S. and resumed her law practice as if nothing had happened.

All these circumstances lend credibility to “Naggomsu” conspiracy theories. If the prosecution’s investigation was meticulous and objective, the theories would never gain traction. Therefore, the foremost patron of the “Naggomsu” is the prosecution.

Of course, the prosecution said it did its best. But it was reluctant to ask for heavy punishment for former National Tax Service head Han Sang-yool after it investigated his links to the land in Dogok-dong.

Furthermore, the prosecution sued the journalist and the former lawmaker, two of the four hosts of the “Naggomsu,” and lost. The reckless decision to bring the case to court gave the podcast a medal to pin on its chest.

The popularity of “Naggomsu” will disappear when the prosecution wins back the public trust.

Former National Assembly Vice Speaker Lee Sang-deuk, the elder brother of President Lee, has recently announced his decision to retire from politics. That means the era of Park Geun-hye, former GNP chairwoman, has begun. It also means the end of the Lee era.

The test began for the prosecution. Poor investigations and inappropriate behavior of the prosecution widen the divide in public opinion. Fair judgments are the Maginot Line of the game.

*The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Oh Byung-sang
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