blogs and traditional media; In Korea, neither has legitimacy

The local English Newspapers are excitedly reporting on ‘babyrose’, a Korean blogger who turned out to be a shill for an ozone-producing sterilizing device.

The problem is, Korean libel laws prevent anyone from reporting on things in a way that negatively affects a person or company.  That negative effect is usually measured financially, but might be considered in other ways (IANAL*).

So, it is mostly legal to report or blog about something you like, but not to warn people away from it.

Now, I’ve told you generally what the issue is.  Let’s look at what the newspapers have to say:

Joongang:

The uproar over a popular blogger, Babyrose, who gushed about and peddled an unsafe product in exchange for money has sparked soul-searching within the country’s blogosphere….Unlike in other countries where bloggers have come to challenge the traditional media structure and have been legitimized as an alternate media outlet, few in Korea seem to consider its bloggers the same way.

“Blogging is neither journalism nor a form of media outlet,” said Professor Lee Gun-ho of Ewha Womans University. “Bloggers are not trained to report information objectively, and they are not trained to filter what’s trustworthy information and what’s not.”

The Herald:

They said 46-year-old Hyun Jin-heui, running one of the nation’s most visited blogs, had arranged sales of an electronic gadget that could harm people’s health and bagged a fortune in commission. The blog, blog.naver.com/jheui13, has more than 50 million accumulated hits under the ID babyrose. 

According to the “victims,” Hyun induced 3,300 people to purchase 360,000 won ($305)-ozone sterilizers through her web site over the past 10 months. But the device turned out to use an excessive amount of ozone, which could make people sick, according to the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards. Nonetheless, the company refused to give refunds citing lack of scientific evidence. 

The Times:

The controversy was stirred by a blogger nicknamed Babyrose, who runs a popular blog about cooking on the country’s biggest portal Naver. The wife-turned-blogger was a superstar online,…

On top of recipes, she often held a group shopping event….

However, an ozone sterilizer sold through her blog turned out to leave an excessive amount of ozone, which could harm people’s health, according to the Korea Agency for Technology and Standards. …

Those who purchased it through the Babyrose blog sought a refund and it was revealed that she was paid 70,000 won in commission for each ozone sterilizer sold, priced at 360,000 won.

Again, the Joongang:

Ms. Hyeon, a 47-year-old housewife, is a famous homemaking blogger in Korea better known as “Babyrose,” her online ID. She was recently found to have recommended and sold a product after being promised hefty commissions by the manufacturer.

Hats off to the Herald, which printed the bloggers full name and blog address.  Few reports based on blogs report the URL.  Notice that no other report offers more than “Ms. Hyeon” and many less than that.

 Quick Quiz: what is the name of this dangerous ozone sterilizer?  That’s right.  No name is ever given.

Now, the reporters are onto a good story.  This blogger received 70,000 won, nearly 20% of the price, for each sterilizer sold.  I don’t know but that seems excessive.   The question now is, are these sterilizers sold at Hi-Mart?  At Home-Plus?  We don’t know; no name is given.

This blogger, at best made a mistake, at worst knowingly endangered people’s health.  The latter is a tough sell as there is no reason to believe she knew the dangers – I feel the huge commission is a bit of an indicator.

Is the solution to dismiss every blogger because one (even a famous and popular one) acted unethically?  If so, we need to visit Brian in Jeollanam-do’s Blog.  Not to dismiss him, but to look at his reports on Korean Journalism.

Two posts from Shoddy Journalism:

1:

““Most of the native English speakers don’t have much affection toward our children because they came here to earn money and they often cause problems,” Park said.”

a quotation that was later revealed to be fabricated by the reporter.

2:

As mentioned on Gusts of Popular Feeling earlier in the week, the Hankyoreh issued a correction and apology for their article “Over half of native English teachers quit job after six months,” …

As blogged on this site, it was one of several articles that spread false information regarding native speaker English teacher retention rates that claimed that many—and in the Hankyoreh‘s case two-thirds—of NSETs quit their contracts early. Dated October 13th, the correction titled “Less than 5 pct. of native English teachers quit job halfway” reads in part:

————–

Korean television isn’t much (any) better.  Recently, Koreans learned that long-running restaurant tourism shows that visit local restaurants and rave about their food received kickbacks before visiting the establishments (here, 2nd article, about halfway down).

I would describe myself as a niche blogger -even though I really don’t know what my niche is.  I guess, because Korean reportage of issues that affect ex-pats is relatively weak – and incorrect, as described above – many foreigners depend on blogs to get real and useful news.

One does need to be careful and it helps to confirm news reports from a few sources before trusting it completely.  But that has always been always true, regardless of the media source.  I trust Korean newspapers somewhat with tourism articles (if only they could give more than one day’s notice when a festival is taking place) and with most news.  If I want international news, I go to international news websites.  And finally, if I want to know about issues that affect English speaking foreigners in Korea, I go to the blogs.  On the blogs, I know that GI Korea‘s reporting will be more or less completely accurate but with a right-wing slant.  The Marmot is the first place for news, although sometimes actual commentary on that news is lacking. If you want to visit Gangwondo, you must visit Gangwon Notes** first; even though it is not being well maintained these days, it is still the best source for Gangwon Info.  Once you know how a blogger thinks, you can determine his/her accuracy just fine.  I think people who consistently read newspapers or watch specific news programs use the same kind of discrimination as for needed with bloggers.

—–

*I’ve never used the acronym before.  I think it means I Am Not A Lawyer and not that “I’M ANAL”!

** Yes, that’s me.

2 Responses to “blogs and traditional media; In Korea, neither has legitimacy”

  1. Bobby McGill Says:

    Nice blog, and a good post. I’d like to see you write more about media and libel. We did a great interview with Mike Breen and the topic is always a good read. If you want to do something on that, drop me a line.

    Bobby
    busanhaps@gmail.com

  2. surprisesaplenty Says:

    It is a subject I have followed somewhat, and blog about, but I am neither a lawyer nor a politician. Bloggers don’t really need to know they are talking about, after all. I’ll email you soon: I am not a modest man so when I say I don’t think I have special insights into the law, you can believe me.

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