Remember South Korea's Artist Blacklist? There's a "Whitelist," Too

Remember South Korea's Artist Blacklist? There's a "Whitelist," Too

Ben Jackson
Ben Jackson

Remember South Korea’s blacklist? The recently ousted Park Geun-hye allegedly kept a blacklist of nearly 10,000 artists and cultural figures who were critical of the administration. Now, investigators found out, there’s a “whitelist” to accompany the blacklist.

The whitelist was first discovered by the recently disbanded special prosecution team, who were investigating the former president’s Choi Soon-sil saga. Donga Ilbo, a right-leaning newspaper, first reported on the list in January, citing anonymous sources. On Mar. 6, the special prosecutor confirmed the existence of the whitelist in a written report for the press.

Here’s what the special prosecutor’s report says. Apparently, the Blue House asked the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) to fund 31 organizations at different times between 2014 and 2016. The FKI, by the way, is the main lobbying arm of South Korea’s chaebol, or family-run conglomerates.

The report estimates the total amount of transferred money, from the FKI to these unnamed groups, was approximately 6.8 billion won (over 6 million U.S dollars). This budget, says the report, came from the FKI’s own funds and member donations — made by leading chaebols like Samsung, LG, Hyundai Motor and SK. It is not clear whether the chaebols were consciously donating to fund the groups on the whitelist.

The whitelist has reportedly been handed over to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office. At the time of publication, the prosecutors did not comment on the status of the investigations, and whether these groups were conservative and pro-Park.

There’s no official confirmation that the whitelist was for funding pro-Park groups; but the list is already reigniting long-standing suspicions, that right-wing groups were funded by the government and other agencies to hold pro-government activities. These suspicions intensified after the sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014: When conservative groups shocked many South Koreans by holding provocative counter-demonstrations against parents who lost their children in the tragedy, local media reported that the groups were receiving money to do so.

The special prosecutor’s March report states that the team discovered the whitelist “while investigating the artist blacklist,” which denied blacklisted figures a variety of public funding and performance opportunities. The blacklist was eventually linked directly to the Minister of Culture and Kim Ki-choon, one of Park Geun-hye’s closest aides.

Blue House spokesman Kim Dong-jo told Korea Exposé that the office of the former president had “no official position” regarding the whitelist allegations. The FKI also declined to comment on the matter.


Editor’s Note: Since we published the piece, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office confirmed to Korea Exposé that a team is in fact investigating the whitelist, but did not respond to any other requests for details. 

Cover Image: A right-wing group protests against Sewol disaster victims’ families in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, in 2014.  (Source: JTBC News

Ben Jackson wrote this radar report. 

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