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Samsung Sues Satirist, Claiming Criminal Defamation, Over Satirical Column Poking Fun At Samsung

from the thin-skinned? dept

Mel alerts us to this story of Korean electronics giant, Samsung, and its decision to sue a freelance writer who penned a satirical Christmas column that poked fun at Samsung's well-known corruption and bribery issues. The writer, Michael Breen, a UK native who's been living in South Korea for a dozen years, wrote an English-language light satire (in English) for the Korea Times, where he joked about what sorts of presents public figures might send to others:
One item read that Samsung had sent to all employees photographs of the son of the firm's chairman with instructions for hanging the photo next to one of his father -- an allusion to North Korea's Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Breen also wrote that Samsung, "the rock upon which the Korean economy rests, sent traditional year-end cards offering best wishes for 2010 to the country's politicians, prosecutors and journalists along with [$50,000] gift certificates."
As satire goes, it seems pretty tame (and, really, not that funny). But, Samsung went ballistic, suing Breen, the Korea Times and its top editor for both civil and criminal libel charges. Supposedly, after Korea Times ran a "clarification" that was written by Samsung itself, the paper and its editor were dropped from the lawsuit, but the suit against Breen remains. And, since there are criminal charges, not only could he face hefty fines (perhaps $1 million), he might also face jailtime. For writing a satirical Christmas day column. Tough audience.

Apparently, Korean defamation laws aren't just draconian, but they're also downright ridiculous. Truth? Not a defense. Satire? Not a defense. Basically, if anything you say harms someone's reputation, you've defamed them. Even if it's true or you're just making a joke. As the LA Times notes, Samsung says it needs to do this to protect its reputation worldwide:
Since 80% of its revenues are from overseas, the firm is sensitive to any "minor accident or mistake" that could adversely affect its international reputation, the suit said.
Uh, perhaps there's just a cultural mistranslation, but the stories about Samsung's corruption and bribery scandals are pretty widely known. Nothing in that column was going to change that. And, I would argue that, outside of South Korea, filing this ridiculous, petty and vindictive lawsuit over a joke is much more likely to harm Samsung's reputation than the original column (which was probably barely read outside of South Korea). And, doesn't something seem completely wrong when Samsung seems more concerned that its reputation will be harmed more by satire about its well-known and well-documented bribery and corruption scandals than the actual bribery and corruption scandals. If the problem is Samsung's "reputation" on the line, then perhaps the company should have thought of that before getting involved in massive bribery and corruption efforts...

The article also notes how this is basically a sign of how dominant Samsung is in South Korea, and how it more or less has power over the newspapers, suggesting that no one is ever willing to criticize them -- and that it's really using this lawsuit as a warning shot. If true, that's a huge shame for South Korea. If a company is bullying people for just making jokes, just imagine what sort of shenanigans it goes through for people who are actually uncovering serious misdeeds at the company.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2010 @ 9:43pm

    This is Mike Breen. Samsung executives made it clear they never wanted this case to go to court. Why? Bad PR. They just wanted me to keep quiet, grovel and promise not to be a naughty boy again. Maybe I was closer to a big fine or something, but I felt all along I was really just being threatened by what actually happened to Joe.

    On another note, I see in the story up top you say my jokes were not funny. I might have to take out a criminal suit here... Out of context, they're not. But then, nor is a Ricky Gervais script. Believe me, they struck me as really not funny during the interrogation by the prosecutor, when they went one-by-one through all 17 jokes in the column and asked if I had checked the facts before writing them. When I said there was nothing to check, the prosecutor said, "But, they're not funny if they're not true." "Come again?" I ejaculated

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