Friday, July 16, 2004

brief exchange with Marmot

Here's an email I wrote to Robert Koehler (The Marmot) and his reply. I thought this was worth slapping on the blog.

My email:


[warning-- long missive, as per usual. Sorry to take your time.]

What I'd like to know is why the newspapers have, for the most part, taken it for granted that the ban emanates from the MIC, whereas MIC officials themselves seem unwilling to step forward, reveal their names, and make claims one way or another about whether the MIC is, in fact, responsible for the ban. This is highly suspicious, not to mention frustrating. I'm not willing to let the MIC off the hook by attributing all this to sheer incompetence, though I suppose incompetence is possible.

I'd love a face-to-face, if my Korean were better. I'm asking a blogger to help arrange such a thing; she knows someone who works in the MIC and who says the MIC is definitely enacting the ban (meanwhile, one journalist emailed me that the MICers he spoke with deny MIC responsibility).

I've had to ask myself whether all this is merely about the unblocking of our own blogs. As I admitted on my site, I didn't bother to think much about the plight of Chinabloggers, who endure this crap routinely. My own motivations were originally selfish, and there's still a huge selfish component there. I can't say I've found a good answer to the question of why to fight this particular ban. Joseph seems to believe that, even if we took the legal route, there's little chance that a ruling in our favor would apply to future bans; cases here don't "set precedents" as easily as they do in the States. George the Drambuie Man simply scoffed at the idea of going the Constitutional Court route at all. In his opinion, the CC moves glacially unless the case is of huge national interest. He thinks, however, that SOME sort of case can be made (and not taken to the CC, but perhaps another court), and his law office might be willing to do some pro bono work, but he warns that bloggers will have to be willing to stake name and reputation on this effort, with the risks that that entails.

Personally, I think I'd get the most satisfaction from watching this goofy wing of the government get embarrassed by bad press, especially foreign press. While I doubt the Western blogosphere can do much, even if it acted in concert, the press has more pull.

So-- are we merely fighting for our blogs, or is this about the Kim video? I think it's safe to say it's about both. The government (assuming it WAS the govt) welded these two issues together when it enacted the ban; I don't see what good comes of separating them now. Free access to our blogs AND free access to the video are of a piece if the basic issue is free exchange/flow of information in an ostensibly open society.

Also, politically speaking, I side with those who feel Koreans need to see what they're up against in Iraq, and this can't happen if Koreans blind themselves to the blood-soaked truth. Americans simply aren't threatening to slice people's heads off if they don't comply with us. That's the other guys. This obvious fact has a better chance of sinking in if the video can circulate more freely, morbid as that may sound. As for protecting the Kim family's dignity... come on. That was a lost cause from Day One.

I don't know what I'd say to an MIC official if I were sitting across the table from him. Maybe I'd start off by noting that the ban has been mostly ineffective and proceed from there. I'd note that I can access my and other blogs through proxies, but that this is still a hassle. I'd note that what *really* rankles is the thinking (or lack thereof) behind the ban-- the shortsighted, possibly racist presumption that it was OK to allow the Berg and Johnson videos through while blocking the Kim video. These aren't new talking points by any means, but I'd want the MIC official to hear them directly. I'd want him to know that I'm not arguing that the previous videos should have been [censored], but that ALL the videos should have been left alone. Citizens should have been allowed to make their own decisions about whether to view the video. If protecting children is the issue, the obvious answer to that is conscientious parenting, not the nanny state.

Anyway, it's too damn late, and I need sleep. Just FYI, I'll be doing my own interview with Todd Thacker on Thursday afternoon. I'd turned him down a few weeks ago, but this censorship bullshit has pissed me off, so I want to talk to the press. I grant that my blog isn't the best poster child for our little cause, but I disagree with folks who see no use in being loud and obnoxious. I'm a pluralist: I see room in this endeavor for all styles and methods, and I don't like narrow-mindedness. As long as I and others can spread the word, we might accomplish something, each of us in our own ways.

Thanks, by the way, for your posts on the subject. Just a heads-up: some of us Korean-incompetents might be approaching you and/or Peter about a Korean-language draft of something or other. I'm vague on the details because it's not my department. You're always free to say no, of course, but you're a trusted source, which is why you're high on the list.

Later, man. Thanks again.


Robert's answering email:

Kevin --

Spoke with a foreign journalist today -- he called MIC ealier this week (I think), and was told the block would be lifted this week. I'd like to think this was true, but who the fuck knows.

I'm probably going to pay MIC a visit on my own either tomorrow or Saturday morning. More specifically, I'm going to visit cyber-ethics, which is in Gangnam. Say hello, show my face, maybe strangle someone. Anyway, maybe if someone actually shows them the problem, they'll recognize what's going on. I'd imagine they're quite busy right now with the hacking issue, but somebody's gotta have a little time on their hands.

As for the courts, I think its a real bad idea at this point. Part of its personal -- I prefer to think of the courts as a last resort, and I'd hate to get people at MIC in trouble (or ouselves in trouble) without trying to resolve the issue between ourselves (bloggers and the MIC) first. To do otherwise just strikes me as being rude.

As for why the press is assuming MIC is doing the banning, well, I have to say, no one is really sure how the banning is being conducted. It may be direct, or might just be a "bureacratic suggestion" to individual Internet providers. Who knows -- everyone who calls them gets a different answer. I think its safe to assume that the direction of the ban came from MIC, regardless of the actual logistics of it all. The logistics are important, though, because if its the MIC telling individual providers to shut off access, it could make getting the ban lifted a pain in the ass.

Look [forward] to seeing your interview with Todd. He's a heck of a nice guy, BTW. And he seems to have a real interest in blogging.

I agree with you, BTW, about the video banning. I'm not going to be calling for people to head to the hills about it -- Korea isn't the first country to do something like that -- but you're right, it was a bad decision. And of course, if you're going to ban something like that, you had better be consistent. And not only were the Berg and Johnson videos available for download, but equally gruesome images of Koreans like Miseon and Hyosun and that prostitute who was killed in TDC were not only widely distributed, but teachers have used them in the classroom, all with little concern for the victims "human rights" or the dignity of the dead.

What disappointed me more than anything was the Netizen response -- for a group that is supposed to have an interest in Internet freedom, there was surprisingly little resistence to MIC, and a fair deal of open collaboration. Not everyone, mind you -- there was "some" online debate, but not much. Unfortunately, it seems a large segment of Korean Netizen society views cyberspace through nationalist glasses, i.e., the Internet is an arena in which to show the world Korean power. Again, this is a generalization, and you know the dangers of generalizations. That being said, one certainly gets that impression at times.

About WOC, I need to get in contact with Joe -- I thought he would have contacted me by now, but he hasn't. Odd. I'm going to shoot him off an email tonight, and I'll be sure to include everything going on. Plunge over at Chief Wiggles might be able to help as well -- he seems to have Glenn's ear.

One other thing -- if you guys have stuff you'd like me to post/advertise at my site, please let me know and I'll put it right up. This last week has been pretty busy both workwise and with setting up my new site, so I haven't been doing as much blog research as I should have. Joel and Ed's petitions are almost over, and I wish I had posted them sooner -- I'm not sure how much it would have helped, but given that I get a relatively high number of hits, it may have given them slightly more exposure. I'm actually quite sorry that I didn't help them out (and those bloggers who are currently blocked) as much as I could. Also, now that I have my own webspace, I could create a war room for those who are blocked should they want or need one -- it would be easy enough. It could also provide a space for those who are blocked to send their posts to a place that can be accessed from Korea.

-- Robert

I'm off to a press center in Seoul to meet, I hope, with some folks in the international press, maybe give them an earful about the ban. In English, bad Korean, and possibly in French if they've got some Agence France-Presse proles there. More on this later.

ALSO: Wooj posts about the article he sent in to the Korean wing of OhMyNews. As for my OhMyNews interview... check periodically. I asked Todd to choose the most flattering photo of me in my collection to accompany his article.


No comments: