Blacklist: Freedom of Expression Suppressed by Power
Blacklist: Freedom of Expression Suppressed by Power
  • Jung Nam Chaehee, Kim Jang Yunsun
  • 승인 2022.12.02 10:16
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Recently, a satirical cartoon created by a high school student caused a stir. It was about the current president and the government, which won the second prize in a national student cartoon contest hosted by the Korea Cartoon and Video Agency. However, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MSCT) issued a stern warning to the agency for awarding the work because it caused social controversy by dealing with political topics. With the MCST's decision, the local cultural community, including the cartoon community, protested saying that the government is suppressing freedom of expression, by forming a political blacklist.

'Yoonsukyeolcha,' a controversial cartoon by a student 


The history of blacklists

The specific definition of a 'blacklist' is a list of people who need to be monitored by investigative agencies within the government. The word 'blacklist' appeared in the 17th century because of a civil war in England. As a result of the civil war, Charles I was executed. However, Charles II, I's son, became the next king and began punishing all of those who had participated in his father's death in political revenge. He made a list of people to be executed and called it a blacklist. This was the first known use of the word blacklist in the world. However, in modern society, the meaning has become refined. Unlike the past meaning of the 'execution list' created by Charles I with his political implications, in modern times, it has been changed to a 'list of people subject to vigilance based on specific reasons.' On the other hand, it can be inferred that even if the expression has been modified, the essential meaning has not changed, which is the act of penalizing blacklisted characters. A typical example of a modern blacklist is the anti-communist policies in the United States. The United States blacklisted artists who support communism — 'McCarthyism' — and among them, Dalton Trump was one well-known target. Writing <Roman Holiday (1953)>, he had previously been considered talented, but was unable to work after being added to the blacklist. Regardless of his talent, he could not carry out any artistic activities. In this way, the blacklist suppressed artists with certain political views.
Moreover, also in Korea, many artists have been suppressed by the blacklist. Lee Young, director of the independent film <The Unwilling You> which deals with the Sewol ferry disaster, was blacklisted during the Park Geunhye government. So the film couldn't be released in theaters supported by the Korean Film Council. This was revealed at the 2018 Blacklist Fact-Finding and System Improvement Committee (Fact-Finding Committee). About the government's blacklist, Lee Young said, "I felt devastated to know that censorship existed as a systematic system. It is political oppression that blocks the eyes and ears of citizens and goes beyond infringement of freedom of expression."1) She stressed that the blacklist causes artists to lose the opportunity to reach the public. This problem has come up again in the recent art censorship case. In a recent press conference on the case of the cartoon 'Yoonsukyeolcha' (a portmanteau of the president's name and the Korean word for 'train'), through a press conference about the case, the cultural and artistic officials said, "The government's perception of 'Yoonsukyeolcha' violates the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Setting standards for selecting works is bound to involve someone's personal interpretation, which is an unconstitutional provision."2) As the blacklist incident resurfaced, cultural and artistic officials declared freedom of expression again. With these examples of cultural blacklist, the guarantee of artists' basic rights is controversial again.

Reading the parliamentary audit data on 'Yoonsukyeolcha'


A black hole where a blacklist omits the individual

As mentioned earlier, the issue of blacklist violates the basic rights stipulated in the Constitution. According to Article 21 of the Constitution, all citizens shall enjoy freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of assembly and association. Therefore, the infringement of the freedom of expression stipulated in the Constitution can be seen as an unconstitutional act by the government. Cinema Dal, a film production company that produced documentaries dealing with the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project and the Yongsan Disaster, was blacklisted for representing a specific ideology and excluded from the independent film production support project. After all the support was cut off, Cinema Dal filed a lawsuit with the government and the Korea Film Council (KOFIC) for damages. In the first trial held on May 27, the court said, "It is a case in which public officials abused their power to violate the basic constitutional rights of artists."3) Regarding artistic activities that do not meet the demands of public officials, they have suppressed the artists' freedom to express themselves. These acts seem to cause mental damage to artists who are unable to work and material damage in the future because of failing to earn money from one's work. In addition, if this continues, this problem will affect not only the individual artist but also the entire cultural community.
Meanwhile, blacklists have an adverse effect on the development of the art industry. However, the blacklist can highly force artists to create works in the way the government wants. Not only artists but also citizens will be affected, the blacklist will reduce opportunities for citizens to encounter arts created from various perspectives. The reason for this is that the blacklist is related to government support. The culture and arts industry is burdened without government subsidies. Therefore, the art industry is inevitably developed in the direction the government wants to receive subsidies, which adversely affects the development of the art industry. After the blacklist system was implemented, the budget for international film festivals was reduced. The international film festivals held in Korea are an important project for the Korean film industry, so when the budget was reduced, the film industry experienced financial difficulties. Kim Sanghwa, chairman of the executive committee of the Busan International Children and Youth Film Festival, said, "To submit works at the festival and the efforts to build a long-standing overseas network, many creators have been preparing for a long time. But If the blacklist loses the chance to submit the work, it can loses meaning a moment."4) This means removing the space for artists to do their work. Based on this, the impact of the blacklist system can also affect the overseas network of the Korean film industry. It means that this problem is needed to be concerned. The sense of contempt for working according to the direction of the government is not limited to artists only, but disadvantageously affects the nation's entire art industry.

A demonstration calling for punishment for the government's blacklist


Still striving with no change

About this situation, the government has struggled to solve this problem and compensate for the damage done to victim artists, but the artists are not satisfied with the government's efforts. After confirming the existence of the blacklist, the government established the Fact-Finding Committee in July 2017. Then they subsequently published recommendations to improve the system for establishing a fair culture and arts support policy in May 2018. The MCST said the recommendations would improve the system through 85 detailed tasks in July 2018. In February 2022, they announced that 62 of the tasks had been carried out, and more than 70% of the tasks were completed over the period of six years since the existence of the blacklist was confirmed in 2016. These statistics said that handling of an accident seems to have been handled well after the accident. In addition to institutional policies, the government also planned to change the general perception of the blacklist. The new policy of the arts includes freedom of artistic expression, protection of artists, and independence and autonomy and was supported by the publishing of the "Joint Declaration on the Guarantee of Self-Operation by the Korean Culture and Arts" on March 10, 2021. However, contrary to asserting that there would be a change in the perception of the people in perceptions of victims and support for individual victims the punishment for some perpetrators has not been carried out, even years after the Fact-Finding Committee was launched. Plus, some victims have also not been compensated for this traumatic situation. This situation represents that nothing has changed significantly compared to before.
This problem remains unresolved, even though the victims' trauma continues. In response, organizations like the Alliance for Cultural Democracy and Practice have urged fair punishment for events that took place over several years. In a solo protest held in 2020, Chung Yoonhee, chairman of the Black Committee of the Solidarity for Cultural Democracy, pointed out that "Civil lawsuits filed against the state have made no progress. In addition, three years have passed since the constitutional petition of art figures in 2017, but no exact answer has been received."5) In addition, the government is not giving a clear answer to the victims' demands toward the government. The issue, which requires justifiable punishment and compensation to be resolved immediately after the incident, has not been improved. This situation is still ongoing, more than two years after these protests. On April 28, in front of the Seoul Central District Court, cultural artists held a press conference on the perpetrators of the blacklist returning to the cultural and art field. They said, "We need to criticize the 'blacklist managers in the culture and arts' who are returning to the culture and art field. The court must face our cry and make a stern judgment of the law."6) They asserted that it is important to have a sense that the return of those who were at the center of the blacklist case is a big problem. The government's perception of weak legal penalties and blacklisting issues is that they prevent a fundamental solution to this case. To solve these problems, efforts are needed to improve awareness of the seriousness of the blacklist. Through this, previous events that hinder the development of the culture and art world will not recur.

Report on the activities of the Fact-Finding Committe


To erase the black on the list

The idea of a 'blacklist' is a serious problem in society as the word has negative connotations for the artists. The role of artists is to express their opinion through their work, including political opinions. However, blacklists have suppressed this in various ways. This situation is unethical and violates the right to freedom, as well as traumatizing artists. There have been several proposals, such as awareness improvement to address this, but there is still no clear solution to this. For a free society, the government has a responsibility to present solutions to this.


1) Shin Nari, ""Park Geunhye Blacklist" Director, "I'm Afraid It'll Be Repeated in the Yoon Sukyeol"", OhmyNews, March 2, 2022

2) Jung Hyukjoon, ""Censorship of Yoonsukyeolcha, Recurrence of Blacklist," Shouted 257 Cultural Civic Groups", The Hankyoreh, October 11, 2022

3) Kim Heejin, "Court Recognizes State Responsibility for Park Geunhye's 'Cultural Blacklist'", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, August 25, 2022

4) Ha Sungtae, ""Warning to Local Governments by Filmmakers So That "Insults Do Not Repeat"", OhmyNews, September 28, 2022

5) Noh Jimin, "Blacklist Case 'Disappearance' in Which President Moon Said He Felt "Guilty"", Media Today, December 18, 2020

6) Bea Hoonsik, "'Blacklist Crime, Expectation of a Just Ruling' in the Culture and Arts Community", NEWSIS, April 28, 2022


Jung Nam Chaehee / Reporter
Kim Jang Yunsun / Reporter

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