Monday, May 10, 2010

Samsung sues Michael Breen.

An exceprt from John Glionna in the Los Angeles Times:
In his Christmas Day 2009 column for the Korea Times, Michael Breen decided to lampoon such national newsmakers as President Lee Myung-bak and the pop idol Rain.

Headlined "What People Got for Christmas," the English-language column also poked fun at global technology giant Samsung Electronics, referring to past bribery scandals as well as perceptions that its leaders are arrogant.

The piece was meant as a satirical spoof, the columnist says, but Samsung wasn't laughing.

Breen's column ran as local media reported that President Lee would soon pardon Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee on a 2008 conviction for tax evasion. Chairman Lee, 68, had already received a federal pardon in the 1990s on a conviction for bribing two former presidents while he was with the firm.

On Dec. 29, the day of Lee's pardon, Samsung sued the freelance columnist, the newspaper and its top editor for $1 million, claiming damage to its reputation and potential earnings. After the Korea Times ran clarifications, the newspaper and its editor were dropped from the suit.

I wonder what will cause more "damage to its reputation and potential earnings," a column in a South Korea English-language paper read by few and understood by fewer, or a very public lawsuit making Samsung and its native country the object of ridicule?

A little more at Extra! Korea and Monster Island.

28 comments:

Eat Your Kimchi said...

I'm a bit confused: are they suing him because what he said isn't true, or are they suing him because they don't like what he said about them?

kushibo said...

Eat Your Kimchi, it doesn't really matter.

As I wrote here, while it's possible Mr Breen might not necessarily have seen Samsung's reaction coming, it's a bit odd that the expert on Korea whose book so many people read (so they themselves can figure out Korea) is playing dumb about how to get himself out of this situation.

And Samsung is shooting themselves in the foot by making a Federal case out of this. Like book-banning, it only serves to pique interest in the topic at hand.

Puffin Watch said...

Any link to the article? This is a classic case where bloggers can repost the article Samsung is trying to bury.

michael said...

Eat Your Kimchi, this is Mike Breen. It's kind of both. They started not realizing it was satire and thought I was reporting false news. When they realized it was a joke, they switched tack.

Kushibo, I honestly didn't see it coming. If anything, I thought the nutty presidential candidate would have flipped over what I said about him. I know how to get out of it, but my priority is to get out of it with my own sense of dignity intact. That's why it's taking longer.

Chris in South Korea said...

That 'THUNK' you just heard was my Samsung TV being thrown out the 4th story window.

Stay classy, Samsung - now the whole world knows your 'secret' - and the truth. Take that to your next stockholders meeting.

michael said...

Puffin, bloggers need to be careful in case they're done for repeating the libel.

Chris in South Korea said...

@michael: please do keep your sense of dignity intact. Keep up the great work, sir.

Colin said...

Michael, continue the satire, fetch your wheelchair and nice clean pyjamas.

Dokdo Is Ours said...

Hang in there, Michael.

http://dokdoisours.blogspot.com/2010/05/dear-samsung-re-your-decision-to-make.html

Puffin Watch said...

Let me suggest at least people tweet, facebook, and blog about this. Use Samsung corporate bully/bullies as key words.

This Is Me Posting said...

Look, I'm completely on Mr. Breen's side here: Satire should be protected speech.

That being said, he is supposed to be an expert on Korean culture, and even I know that you can't "malign" anyone in Korea because Korea is not a free speech country. We're talking about a culture that legally protects teachers who physically, emotionally and mentally abuse other people's children, that legally protects rapists and blames rape victims because the "woman's jeans were too tight" and lets foreign children die in saunas and then sues the grieving mother for loss of face for their business.

I don't believe Mr. Breen when he says he did not anticipated this. That's like a Brit saying: "Well, I didn't expect the Queen's Guard to hit me back when I slapped him in the face! I thought they're not supposed to move at all!"

Willy said...

Korean Criminal Act Article 309

Defamation Through Printed Materials

(1) A person who commits the crime of Art. 307, para. (1) [defamation by publication of facts] by means of newspaper, magazine, radio or other publication with intent to defame another shall be punished by imprisonment with or without hard labor for a term of up to three years or by a fine of up to seven million won.

(2) A person who commits the crime of Art. 307, para. (2) [defamation by publication of falsehoods] by the method described in para. (1) of this Article shall be punished by imprisonment with or without hard labor for a term of up to 10 years or by a fine of up to 15 million won.


Mr. Breen, even worst case scenario (which I don't see happening) wouldn't you just be looking at a fine of 10-15 million at most?

While the Act may technically allow for jail time, courts don't give out prison sentences for "defamation" when they can just fine. And especially in your case with satire that readers acknowledge as such. Why not call Samsung's bluff and ride this one out. I'd say time (and the press and public opinion) is on your side not theirs.

@Puffin - the spineless KT removed all traces of the original article. Only the apology remains.

Gone: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2009/12/202_57880.html

Gone:
http://211.234.100.245/www/news/opinon/2009/12/196_57880.html

Cop out apology:
https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/opi_view.asp?newsIdx=59927&categoryCode=137

Puffin Watch said...

http://www.news.com.au/technology/ellen-degeneres-told-to-apologise-to-apple-for-mocking-their-iphone/story-e6frfro0-1225863085506

Michael is in good company. Apple made Ellen apologize.

Corporate thugs. Remember when McDonald's UK sued in the McLibel trial or the British Chiropractor Association sued in the case of journalist Simon Singh.

kushibo said...

Puffin Watch wrote:
Any link to the article? This is a classic case where bloggers can repost the article Samsung is trying to bury.

Since reposting it would not involve just linking to it but actually reproducing it (right?), it would seem that this would be participating in libel, if in fact what Mr Breen wrote is deemed to have been libel.

kushibo said...

Michael Breen wrote:
Kushibo, I honestly didn't see it coming. If anything, I thought the nutty presidential candidate would have flipped over what I said about him. I know how to get out of it, but my priority is to get out of it with my own sense of dignity intact. That's why it's taking longer.

Okay. It's your funeral. On the one hand, I think you could maybe do some good to challenge what may be some bad law, and Samsung's potential to get hurt grows larger and larger if they pursue this.

But on the other hand, if we are ultimately talking about a difference in commonly practiced legal notion that is pretty well-established and provides a clear way out (i.e., apology) even if it isn't always clear what will violate the law, I don't see how much good you can do vis-à-vis the risk (potential imprisonment, though that seems unlikely).

And as I wrote and others have also noted, you are a book-writing expert on Korea, so it seems a bit odd that you've decided to buck the trend in this way. If you were, say, like Brian, who earned his reputation as a blogger critical of what he sees, yours is a tack that would seem reasonable to take.

But you on the other hand are the expert at explaining what is what in Korea and why (sorry, it's been a while since I last picked up any of your books, so if I'm mischaracterizing them, I apologize — he he he), and the whole kabuki of face-saving and apology that is codified (or at least predictable) to some degree is something one would expect you to know.

Or are you going rogue now?

kushibo said...

[continued]

"Having to" apologize sucks. I was once hit, while I was driving, by a motorcycle driver who then drove off. By the time it was all over, I was facing a 1 million won fine over a licensing issue (ultimately my fault, though bad advice played a role), which I dispelled (for the most part) by an apology to the court for the stupid things I had done to get me to that point (the other guy was also fined 1 million won, which he paid in full).

Had I chosen to stand my ground — that guy caused an accident and then fled and you're charging me over a minor licensing issue?! — I would have faced the full brunt of the law.

That's the way the law works to keep people in line, and it's not as if you are some naïf about all this: You know that one's reputation is a form of hard currency in Korean society (and many other societies) and for you to attack it in a "satirical spoof" is tantamount to pilfering from the cash register (versus Samsung's pursuance of this matter, which is giving away their own cash). You suggested they were essentially the same as a pair of dynastic murderous thugs who are seen by the Samsung generation as a horrible enemy, and you also suggested — through the indirectness of satire — that there's some there there about Samsung engaging in wholesale bribery on a regular basis. If this is not a proven fact that you can point to, you're in more hot water, no?

Really, is any of this a surprise?

We live in a world where, no matter where we are, we have to hold our tongue and rein in our pen at certain times. In Hawaii, for example, I would risk my academic standing and my ability to earn money if I were to publicly declare (e.g., in a classroom setting or some such), for example, that Hawaiians' attempts for independence and restoration of the monarchy is a pipe dream and that the problems faced by Native Hawaiians are more a result of their own collective dysfunctional behaviors than of any residual effects of discrimination (if I were to hold such a view, which is purely hypothetical).

Were I to declare that, no one would be surprised at the thrashing I would take, and were I to stand on principle against it, some would call me foolish. Ditto with, say, Gerry Bevers having been allegedly fired for his at-school writings about Tokto (though he may have been let go for other reasons having nothing to do with Tokto or his performance as a teacher, but that's another matter).

Ultimately, it's up to you. I just find it so surprising that perhaps the most widely read anglophone expert on Korea is deliberately allowing this to go on.

Unless... Is there an ulterior motive? Is this a publicity-generating course of action for an upcoming book? "Read the book by the man who Samsung sued!" Do you have Minerva envy, Mr Breen? ;)

[Please note the winky emoticon; I am joking about this, unless it turns out to be true, so don't sue me.]

WORD VERIFICATION: menstna, Mensa for menstruating women

Puffin Watch said...

Since reposting it would not involve just linking to it but actually reproducing it (right?), it would seem that this would be participating in libel, if in fact what Mr Breen wrote is deemed to have been libel. .

Sure libelous in Korea but not likely libelous in Canada or the USA. I doubt such small quips, clearly satire of a public figure and a public company, would actually be held libelous in North America, especially given they're recognized satirical commentary on actual incidents that happened.

kushibo said...

I assume, too, that it's not libel in North America or Mr Breen's UK, but someone like me, who has a nominally Korea-based blog, frequently goes to Korea for work and research and to visit "home" (which is owned property), the libel law could apply to me. Ditto with Mr Robert Koehler, whose hypersensitivity about these matters was occasionally mocked but I've always thought were prudent.

chuck said...

i tweeted this to keith olbermann, hope he includes it in his worst person segment.

mike i hope this works out, you are one of the best writers here, keeo it up

Brian said...

Ah, the Korea Times' "correction":
***
The Korea Times would like to issue a further correction with regard to the column headlined “What People Got for Christmas” by Michael Breen (Page 6, December 25, 2009) and the related clarification (Page 1, December 26, 2009).

The column indicated in its introduction that it was a factual roundup of stories in the news, and the columnist did not explain clearly at any point that it was intended to be humorous or satirical.

As such, we accept that Korean and overseas readers might be sufficiently misled to believe that the claims in the columns were based on fact.

However, The Korea Times has confirmed that the claims made in the column were entirely false and without foundation.

The Korea Times published these claims without proper fact-checking and its initial clarification failed to sufficiently explain that the column misled readers.

The Korea Times would like to sincerely apologize to both its Korean and overseas readers and those mentioned in the column.
***

Hmm, I don't think I read any such comments after an article blasting native speaker English teachers. Say what you will, kushibo, about me spending too much time pointing out what the KT wrote about foreigners this time---it's basically a high school paper, you're right---but it is a paper read by a fair number of Korean English teachers and students. Maybe it doesn't provide the news, but it does help form opinion on NSETs.

I'd love to swear off the Times, stop linking to them, and simply point readers to other sources. But, unfortunately, no other outlets really have stepped up. I guess the JoongAng Daily is the best of the bunch, but their actual news coverage is limited, and a lot is hidden on their website. As Roboseyo said a while ago, I think, this would be a great time for another outlet to really step up and appeal to foreign readers, but as we're reminded time and time and time and time again, we aren't the target demographic.

Yes, Breen should have anticipated the reaction, but that doesn't make Samsung any more petty or pathetic. Global boycott? No, of course not. But its global reputation won't be helped among those who read this story.

Eat Your Kimchi said...

So, I'm still confused: was Samsung accusing Breen of defamation by publication of facts or defamation by publication of falsehoods? Do they have to make that distinction when they file their suit?

If it's for falsehoods, aren't these publicly acknowledged facts? I don't know the whole story behind them.

Korea Times is apologizing by saying this was entirely false....

... yeah. I'm still confused.

holterbarbour said...

Whatever comments I make will necessarily be projecting American legal theory upon Korean law. But for what it's worth, I'll comment anyway. The language of the criminal statute makes "intent to defame" an element of the crime, and I would expect that would be hard to prove, especially if the article is obviously false.

But we're not in Kansas anymore, are we?

In any case, three cheers to you, Michael Breen.

(p.s., Kushibo: "Mensa" is Latin for table, "menses" means menstruation)

kushibo said...

Brian wrote:
Say what you will, kushibo, about me spending too much time pointing out what the KT wrote about foreigners this time

... which apparently is a response to this:
When it comes to thinking about the Korea Times, my preference is to just say no, for the KT makes my head hurt. Likewise, reading K-blog post after K-blog post about the latest "Did you see what so-and-so in the KT wrote?" transgression du jour just makes me close my eyes and think of a happy place where the KT does not exist. Where the long-defunct Korea Daily is the newspaper of record and Brian Deutsch writes only about Chŏlla festivals, and the occasional outrage over Konglish in K-pop.

I was taking a dig at some parts of the KT being such a polarizing source of offense that ends up the subject of a lot of K-blog ink (including on my own site), and since you are probably the most representative of the NSET bloggers, I mentioned you in a one-off. But please believe me, it was a dig at the KT, not a dig at you, and certainly not a suggestion that you "spend too much time" on the KT. That's what you want to do and that's what much of your audience wants to read, so have at it. Yours is one of my must-read blogs, and one of only a handful I put in my "Daily Breadth" column, so I think it is pretty clear I don't have a generally negative view of your blog nor anything particularly bad to say about your KT-related content.

But misunderstandings can happen, and if that is the case, I apologize for not making my intent clearer. See how easy that was, Mr Breen? ;)


---it's basically a high school paper, you're right---but it is a paper read by a fair number of Korean English teachers and students. Maybe it doesn't provide the news, but it does help form opinion on NSETs.

I do think that it doesn't have quite the influence on opinion that many suggest or believe it does, simply because of the nature of its readership, many of whom read it for English practice but go elsewhere for actual news gathering.

No one should take it too seriously, even Samsung if they really think they were wronged.

kushibo said...

Regarding the KT's "correction":
The column indicated in its introduction that it was a factual roundup of stories in the news, and the columnist did not explain clearly at any point that it was intended to be humorous or satirical.

Before anyone says "well it was obviously satire," I'd like to point out that my own often-lame, hit-or-miss (this is probably the best one) final story in my daily news roundups is always a gag story, but I frequently get people emailing me or commenting that the link doesn't work, because they think it's a real story. And I'm not talking about stupid people, either.

In other words, in a world of OinK, satire can backfire because the truth is sometimes even stranger. Again, Mr Breen is a serious news analyst and author whose usual material is not normally the type one would find at, say, "Dokdo Is Ours." It's plausible that a less-than-perfect English speaker or even a native anglophone might be credulous on reading part of Mr Breen's "satirical spoof."

thebobster said...

I think Samsung is completely wrong to pursue this, and it’s going to be one more thing that makes Korea and Koreans look bad in the eyes of the world. Mr Breen is right when he says that large conglomerates ought not to have the right to decide what is funny.

I’ve decided I’m not going to boycott Samsung, though, and I’ll admit that a large part of the reason is just that their products are so ubiquitous that I might have to go live on a small shack on some island. Also, well, their products generally ARE better … why should my quality of life take a hit just because the idiots at the very top of the chaebols want to be treated like monarchs?

(Samsung does 80% of its business overseas, so a boycott here in Korea – even if Koreans participated as well – would not have much effect on them.)

Instead, I’m going support Mr Breen’s legal efforts by buying another copy of his book, and I might buy a few more as well to give to friends.

You know what I really wish to see come out of this? I hope that Mr Breen will move his column to some other paper besides the Korea Times. They have behaved abominably toward him by caving in to pressure and refusing to give him the least bit of support. It’s a crappy paper, and for a long time he’s been the only reason I’ve looked at it at all.

youngkooksaram said...

Puffin, bloggers need to be careful in case they're done for repeating the libel.

youngkooksaram said...

themselves can figure out Korea) is playing dumb about how to get himself out of this situation.

And Samsung is shooting themselves in the foot by making a Federal case out of this. Like book-banning, it only serves to pique

Puffin Watch said...

Puffin, bloggers need to be careful in case they're done for repeating the libel.

Although I wasn't specific I meant non-Korea based bloggers, such as myself.

And Samsung is shooting themselves in the foot by making a Federal case out of this. Like book-banning, it only serves to pique

Indeed. One might get the impression Breen wrote a 1200 word op ed satire that pulled no punches. It was 2 short quips that lampooned incidents that actually happened. A high crime in "shut up and sit down" Korea, certainly, but to electronics buying consumers in the west seems utterly, utterly ridiculous.

Korean culture sure does not appreciate outsiders making fun of them (consider the Busan improv group that got into trouble). The society and its major corporations really need to learn how to take it on the chin once in a while if they really want to play in the big boy world. They can't be pulling the nuclear trigger every time someone pokes a joke at foibles they themselves created.