South Korean documentary film “Criminal Conspiracy” made me sad and angry for good reasons. During last 10 years, several major broadcasting companies in South Korean have been seriously damaged and corrupted by South Korean politicians and their cronies, and the documentary gives us a close, sobering look into how that injustice has happened with alarming consequences. Considering the recent political events in South Korean, there will probably be some good changes, but I think it will probably take lots of time for cleaning up the mess.
The documentary begins its story with Jung Yeon-joo, the former president of the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS). When Rho Moo-hyun became the new president of South Korea in 2003, he guaranteed to Jung that his government would not interfere with whatever would be reported by KBS, which is the No.1 broadcasting company in South Korea. He did keep his promise during the 5 years of his presidency, and Jung becomes a little emotional as recollecting when he later showed his gratitude to President Rho not long after the end of Rho’s presidency.
However, things quickly changed as President Rho was succeeded by Lee Myung-bak in 2008. When KBS reported on the corruption of some of Lee’s cabinet member candidates, it was one of the best moments in the South Korean journalism history, but this apparently displeased President Lee and his high-ranking government officials a lot. Jung and many others in KBS soon found themselves becoming the target of an unfair government investigation, and then the board members of KBS, who were virtually under the control of the South Korean government, decided to fire Jung at their impromptu meeting.
After he was officially fired, Jung was further humiliated with more investigation, and his vacant position was instantly filled by a man closely connected with President Lee. KBS consequently went through lots of drastic changes; its several notable political commentary programs were discarded while many reporters and producers were fired or demoted, and it also began to focus more on the public relations of the South Korean government.
Not so surprisingly, that was just the beginning of the entire takeover of South Korean TV media. Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which is the No.2 broadcasting company in South Korea, also suffered the same fate not long after it reported on a controversial trade treaty made between the South Korean government and the US government, and director Choi Seung-ho, who worked in MBC during that time, and many other employees of MBC came to experience the same ordeal which happened to those unfortunate KBS employees.
The middle portion of the documentary focuses on how numerous employees of KBS and MBC tried to resist against this injustice. They often held demonstrations in front of the buildings of their broadcasting companies, and some of fired reporters and producers including Choi founded an alternative media company for continuing their public service. As their protest became louder, they drew more public attention, and we see their efforts being appreciated and supported by many citizens.
However, their circumstance only became worse as President Lee was succeeded by President Park Geun-hye, who will surely be remembered as one of the worst presidents in the South Korean history. Her government simply continued what had been done during Lee’s presidency, and KBS and MBC came to be ruined further as becoming mere propaganda tools for the South Korean government.
This problem ultimately culminated to when KBS and MBC incorrectly reported on the sinking of MV Sewol on April 16th, 2014. They initially reported that everyone on the ship was rescued, but they just repeated what was said by government officials, and I and many other South Korean citizens were soon shocked and infuriated as watching the sheer incompetence of the South Korean government and the eventual tragedy of that terrible incident.
And then there came a huge political scandal which rocked the whole country during late 2016. When it turned out that President Park had been virtually controlled by her personal associate Choi Soon-sil, this unprecedented scandal surely drew lots of anger and attention in public, but KBS and MBC did not report much on that, and their reporters accordingly received lots of contempt when they came to report on the demonstrations against Park’s government.
Eventually, President Park was ousted shortly after her subsequent impeachment early in this year, and I and other South Korean citizens saw some hope as Moon Jae-in was elected as the new president of South Korea, but, as sharply pointed out in the documentary, the people responsible for the corruption of KBS and MBC seem to get away with what they committed. As a matter of fact, some of them even tried to suppress the theatrical release of this documentary in South Korea, though their impertinent attempt fortunately did not succeed.
Overall, “Criminal Conspiracy” works as a modest but vivid chronicle of the corruption of South Korean media. As he did in his previous documentary film “Spy Nation” (2016), Choi shows admirable persistence in his stubborn pursuit of truth and justice, and he also did a good job of presenting facts via an effective mix of archival footage and interview clips. The film surely deserves more audiences in South Korea, and I sincerely hope that will bring more public attention to its troubling subject.