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Culture Ministry launches ‘blacklist’ investigation committee

By Yoon Min-sik

  • Published : Jul 31, 2017 - 17:53
  • Updated : Jul 31, 2017 - 17:53

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Monday officially launched a government-civilian joint committee to investigate the previous administration’s blacklist of cultural figures.

The committee, co-headed by Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan and artist Shin Hak-chul, consists of 21 local artists and four ministry officials. Its three subcommittees are respectively charged with investigation, drawing up measures to prevent such blacklists in the future and compiling a white paper on the scandal.

The investigation will run for six months, but can be extended if necessary.

Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan speaks during the meeting of the special committee on the blacklist scandal in Seoul on Monday. (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism)

“Everyone is entitled to their right not to be excluded, discriminated against or be monitored. We (the committee) will work to ensure such a thing (the blacklist) will never happen again,” Do said, after holding the committee’s first meeting earlier in the morning.

In an investigation held earlier this year, it was revealed that former President Park Geun-hye’s administration had kept a list of artists who were to be excluded from receiving state funding. The list was based on the cited individuals’ political inclinations, and was part of the larger scandal in which Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil is accused of having meddled in state affairs.

Committee members said the participation of artists -- many of whom were included on the blacklist -- in the process has great significance.

“The focal point of the committee’s activities is on ensuring freedom of expression,” said co-chair Shin. “Because of the country’s situation -- where it is divided into South and North Koreas -- artists have never truly been able to exercise freedom of expression, not since Korea’s liberation (from Japan in 1945).”

The armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War means that the two Koreas technically remain at war, and there has been suspicion that conservative governments are overly repressive of any expression that is seen as leftist. The independent counsel investigating the Park-Choi scandal found the Park administration had requested the Culture Ministry not support leftist artists.

“The blacklist incident is not simply a case of some artists being excluded from government support. It is a clear case of the state’s violence (against individuals),” said Lee Won-jae, who will head the subcommittee on structural reforms.

The committee also decried the suspended prison term sentence handed to Cho Yoon-sun, a culture minister during the Park administration.

“I respect the court’s decision, but it is true that many cultural figures are not satisfied with the sentence. I have issues too, as a cultural figure,” said Do, who was a poet before embarking on his political career.

Lawyer Cho Young-sun, head of the investigation subcommittee, said it is hard to accept the court practically absolving Cho when the people who were working for her were found guilty.

“If she indeed knew nothing of it, it would mean Cho neglected her duties as a culture minister,” he said.

Cho added the team would broaden its scope of investigation to include ministry officials who participated in the drawing up of the list, along with those in related organizations such as National Intelligence Service and even Cheong Wa Dae itself.

There has been concern the committee may fail to incriminate Culture Ministry officials who participated in creating the blacklist, but who “have played innocent,” as some have described.

“A civilian investigation found that several government officials were involved in the blacklist,” said theater critic Kim Mi-do, who will head the whitepaper subcommittee. She, Lee and Shin, along with several members of the committee were blacklisted.

“I can’t really mention names, but some (officials) were too involved. Some government officials testified as though they too were victims, and the committee will get to the bottom of it. Additional punishment, and even legal charges can be considered,” she said.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)