Men blackmailed firm to run ads in liberal papers

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Men blackmailed firm to run ads in liberal papers

Members of a progressive civic group who blackmailed a business to stop running ads in conservative newspapers when the anti-U.S. beef protests were staged in 2008 have been found guilty.

The Supreme Court upheld the original verdict that sentenced Kim Seong-kyun, 47, head of the progressive civic group Media Consumer Sovereignty National Campaign, to six months in prison with two years of probation.

The court also upheld the original verdict that handed down a four-month prison sentence with two years of probation to the group’s managerial level official Seok Woong-guk, 45.

When the streets of Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, were filled with protesters opposed to the government’s plan to increase the amount of U.S. beef imports in May 2008, Kim and Seok blackmailed Kwang Dong Pharmaceutical, which only ran ads in conservative newspapers, to run ads in progressive newspapers instead.

The civic group said they would launch a campaign calling for a boycott of the pharmaceutical company if the company didn’t change where it was advertising.

They insisted at the time that the Chosun, JoongAng and Dong-A newspapers were producing news that supported the government that stated U.S. beef was safe.

Kwang Dong spent 7.56 million won ($6,690) on advertisements in the Kyunghyang and Hankyoreh newspapers two days after negotiating with Kim and Seok.

Kim and Seok were accused by civic groups, including the Civil Coalition for Fairness in Media, for interfering with the company’s business activity and blackmail.

Kim also created an Internet community that carried out a boycott campaign against the three conservative newspapers, as well as a boycott campaign against corporations that run advertisements in the three newspapers.

“Their behavior clearly scared Kwang Dong into thinking that their business might be negatively impacted if they don’t comply with the demands and influenced them in making decisions that must be made with their own free will,” the court said in the ruling.

In March, the Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court, stating that “It is legitimate to see that the defendants have interfered in ad sponsors’ business, but there is a misunderstanding in the ruling that stated the defendants have impeded the newspapers’ business.”

It added that the defendants have clearly suppressed ad sponsors’ free will by making complaint calls and posting messages on corporate Web sites consistently and collectively, but stated that it isn’t clear how the newspapers were interfered with in business because it isn’t clear how their free will was affected in business operations, including producing news articles.

But the ruling at the time was under fire because the prosecution stated that the advertisement revenue of the Chosun, JoongAng and Dong-A newspapers between June and August 2008 decreased by an average of 20 percent and caused them a total of 10 billion won in losses.

By Lee Dong-hyun, Kwon Sang-soo [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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