South Korea: Alleged government blacklist of 9,473 artists over politics

19 October 2016

South Korean daily newspaper Hankook Ilbo revealed on 11 October 2016 that the South Korean government blacklisted 9,473 artists from receiving state support, including financial support, due to their political activity of either being critical of the current government or backing opposition politicians, reported The Korea Times on 12 October 2016.

The 100-page blacklist is divided into the following four sections based on the political activity of the artists:

  1. 594 artists blacklisted for opposing a government enforcement ordinance about the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 in which 304 of the 476 people aboard died when the ferry capsized. More than half of the survivors were rescued by fishing boats and commercial vessels. Criticism grew over the government’s response time, as well as its lax regulations allegedly leading to weak security regulations.
  2. 754 artists blacklisted for putting their names on a statement calling for the government to take responsibility for the ferry disaster.
  3. 6,517 artists blacklisted for supporting Moon Jae-in, opposition leader of the Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), during the 2012 presidential election. He lost the election to current president Park Guen-hye. Moon is a leading presidential candidate in the next presidential election set for December 2017.
  4. 1,608 artists blacklisted for supporting Park Won-soon during the 2014 Seoul mayoral election. Current president Park Guen-hye supported his opponent, who lost in those elections. Park Won-soon is also a leading presidential candidate in the next presidential election.

During the parliamentary audit of government offices in October 2016, poet-turned-lawmaker Do Jong-hwan of the opposition MPK claimed the government created the blacklist and sent it to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in May 2015. Do based his claim on information he collected from the meeting minutes of the Arts Council Korea (ACK), the organisation within the ministry responsible for supporting artists.

The government and the cultural minister have denied the existence of such a blacklist.

The alleged blacklist contains the names of artists across all genres, including musicians, actors, directors, poets, writers and visual artists, with such popular artists as film director Park Chan-wook and actor Song Kang-ho.

Blacklist backlash
Suspicions have been swirling since at least September 2015 about the existence of such a list after lawmakers from the opposition party claimed the government was withholding funding for “liberal-leaning” artists.

Upon the discovery of the alleged blacklist, Park Won-soon called for the National Assembly to initiate an investigation, and if the list were indeed true that the president should be impeached. For his part, Moon Jae-in said the government should “feel ashamed” and that it shows “how ignorant” they are about cultural affairs, reported The Korea Herald on 13 October 2016.

On 18 October 2016, a group of cultural figures and artists held a rally at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, led by non-governmental organisation Cultural Action, protesting the blacklist and condemning the government for what the protestors say is tantamount to the artist crackdown during military dictatorship. A second demonstration comprised of actors was held later that evening at Marronier Park in Seoul’s Daehangno theatre district, reported The Korea Times on 18 October 2016.

President Park’s administration over the last four years has not been a stranger to criticism over censorship with accusations that it censors art critical of the president and her policies.

In August 2014, for example, a large painting depicting the president as a maniacal scarecrow facing off against the angered parents of the children who died in the ferry disaster was censored at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation 20th anniversary exhibition, causing the president and co-founder of the foundation to resign.

UPDATE: On 12 December 2016, South Korean filmmakers took to the streets demanding an investigation into allegations of government censorship on the heels of the impeachment of the country’s president Park Geun-hye, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The president’s former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon is accused of compiling the blacklist.

Members of six major filmmaker organisations and six artist groups took part in the rally in front of the office of the special prosecutor in charge of investigating the various scandals tied to Park and her administration.

Click here to see the full list of allegedly blacklisted artists (in Korean)


» IndieWire – 19 December 2016:
South Korea’s political turmoil: How its presidential crisis will change the film industry

» The Hollywood Reporter – 12 December 2016:
South Korean filmmakers demand probe into censorship allegations

» The Korea Times – 18 October 2016:
Artists protest blacklist

» Screen Daily – 14 October 2016:
Top Korean directors, actors on government blacklist

» The Korea Herald – 13 October 2016:
Liberals decry arts censorship

» Views and News – 12 October 2016:
Complete blacklist with names and artistic field (in Korean)

» The Korea Times – 12 October 2016:
Presidential office blacklisted 9,473 artists for political reasons

More from Freemuse

» 22 September 2015: South Korea: Arts Council accused of political censorship

» 14 August 2014: South Korea: President of biennale resigns over artistic censorship

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