Thursday, November 19, 2009

Criticism of Anti-English Spectrum in the Korea Herald

In the Korea Herald today are two articles criticizing Anti-English Spectrum. One of them was written by myself, and shouldn't be unfamiliar ground for readers of this blog. The other article, written by Adam Walsh, displays the fruits of his research and interviews. As he notes,
Further involvement in the AIDS public opinion field was the group's successful influencing of foreign visa regulations using false statistics. Bill (3356), which is now at the National Assembly, is designed to allow AIDS testing for any foreigners coming into Korea on working visas. The bill contains a statistic which originates from Anti-English Spectrum, and has been quoted by the group's administrator in the media on numerous occasions. It states that in 2007 the Itaewon AIDS clinic performed 80 percent of its tests on foreign teachers and foreign white collar workers.
Korea AIDS/HIV Prevention & Support Center statistics for that year show that the 80 percent statistic is false. Furthermore, KHAP director Yu Sung-chal told Expat Living that the clinic "moved to Seongbuk-gu in 2006, so it makes no sense to say that the Itaewon clinic sent out these statistics."
I looked at this back in June, pointing out that the statistic first appeared in a Lee Eun-ung-penned Weekly Kyunghyang article in February in almost identical language, but that the 2007 date was wrong, which was noted by Benjamin Wagner here, and confirmed once more above. Another more interesting interview follows:
When Assemblyman Lee Sang-jun, who is behind Bill (3356) was asked by the Herald about the false statistic, he stated that he got the stats from the Ministry of Justice, and that he does not remember who in the ministry he got them from. "I do go over statistics at times. But in this case, since they are not the vital issue here, but rather a reference, I didn't check the facts."

The same dubious statistic can be traced back even further. A petition from AES sent to the Ministry of Justice in 2006 bears the same 80 percent figure. Around this time, Anti-English Spectrum assisted in an online article that alleged the percentage was English teachers, leaving out the mention of white collar workers. The picture included with the article is of a white man giving a blood sample to a nurse -- presumably an English teacher, since the article is about EFL teachers -- with the caption once again mentioning the Itaewon AIDS tests.

As it turns out, the photo was a fake. The picture is of President George W. Bush's former U.S. Global AIDS coordinator being publicly tested for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia in an effort to fight AIDS stigma. The same picture is on Wikipedia.
This Wikipedia entry, in fact. So we know that the statistic is from the 2006 Breaknews article about AIDS and English teachers, seeing as the Itaewon clinic didn't exist in 2007, and, as a bonus, we know Breaknews article used a photo of a US government employee taken from Wikipedia. Of course, this is Breaknews we're talking about, so such a lack of professionalism isn't surprising, of course. What is interesting, however, is not only do we know that the commentary on Bill 3356 has a statistic lifted straight from an article penned by a member of Anti-English Spectrum, but according to Rep. Lee Sang-jun, the statistic came from the Ministry of Justice.
I'm sure no one is picking their lower jaw up off the floor upon reading that the Ministry of Justice uses a group like Anti-English Spectrum as a source of statistics, of course, especially considering the way national assembly representatives have been misusing them lately (see here, here, and here).
As noted in this post on Anti-English Spectrum's campaign to turn foreign English teachers into AIDS threats, one of the articles the misused was this September 8, 2006 article at the website of the Korean Alliance to Defeat AIDS:
Kim Ji-young of the AIDS Prevention Center says without hesitation that “Korea’s men are the biggest victims of AIDS.” After seeing the attitude of a foreign English teacher after he/she found out that he/she was infected with AIDS, she says that she was very shocked by the difference in thinking that is still deeply rooted in our society.[...]

"There is too much of a clear difference in the way people view the disease and how they view those who are infected, and therefore it is a reality that people infected with AIDS within our society can only live buried under the shadows. It is now time to pull them up out into the light, and altogether be concerned and find a solution together.[...]
She meant she was shocked at the teacher's positive attitude, but AES used this as grist for their foreign English teacher = AIDS mill. The woman quoted above is also quoted in Walsh's article.
When reached for comment, the director of the AIDS Prevention Center in Daegu did not have nice things to say about Anti-English Spectrum. "I think they are highly nationalistic and they treat foreigners as our enemies ... I do believe in freedom of speech, however, what they are sending out is highly controversial and might send out the wrong perception," said Kim Ji-young.
There are some good interviews in that article - kudos to him for researching and writing it.

There's been some debate about the influence of AES, and while exaggerating it is not a good idea, downplaying it isn't either. As seen in their list of accomplishments, AES has claimed that they have contributed to many news articles and television news programs. While they may be exaggerating these, it's worth noting that there are more than a few articles out there which feature interviews with cafe manager Lee Eun-ung or which mention AES in the articles. And yes, while these include tabloids like Inside Story/Breaknews [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] and Sports Chosun, they also include the Chosun Ilbo, [1, 2,], Weekly Chosun, Donga Ilbo, Weekly Kyunghyang [1, 2], Seoul Shinmun [1, 2], Joongang Ilbo, the Korea Times[1, 2] and LA Times. Also worth noting is that first story from June 30 didn't just make the top of's homepage (as Brian pointed out), it made the top of the homepage - an audience of millions.

Along with those AES was also publicly credited for the Pandora's Box TV show and publicly took credit for segments of 그것이 알고싶다 (which, in its irresponsible manner, brought the concept of 'foreign English teacher = child molester' into people's homes a year before Karr or Neil came to light). It's also likely a number of the articles it takes credit for are genuine - AES has a particular style, with either outlandish claims or blanket moral condemnation being readily apparent, that's not easy to miss. But even if AES had done little after forming, that might have been enough. The English Spectrum incident (see here and here) was what started the media representation of foreign English teachers as 'unqualified'. Still, I doubt things have gotten to the point where national assembly members publicly accuse foreign teachers of hidden crimes and speak of a foreign teacher 'problem' without a need to explain what this problem is without a bit of a push from somewhere. As I wrote in the comment section awhile back:

One of the things I find interesting to remember is that when the English Spectrum scandal broke in 2005, Oranckay - who had lived in Korea for almost 20 years at that point - said, "Whoop dee damn doo, this too will pass." But it didn't. Four and a half years later, I can look back over the last six months and find 10 articles or news clips featuring Lee. Before that the media reported on the occasional drug bust, and while you could argue it might be natural to look more closely at qualifications and drug use after the ES incident (though even the actions of the media and immigration (requiring transcripts) were responses to the clamor on the internet caused by the people who formed AES), the propensity for the media over the past few years to delve into the private lives of foreign teachers has been a result of AES feeding a lot of this information to the media. Much of this information has come from ex-girlfriends, which is ironic, considering AES considers such 'white groupies' to be, at best, misguided, and at worst, treasonous whores. In final summation, the shift in public discourse regarding foreign English teachers from 'people we ignore who get arrested for drugs sometimes' to 'unqualified, morally corrupt, permanently stoned, disease-carrying threats to Korean feminine virtue and childhood innocence' is in good part due to the propaganda efforts of Anti-English Spectrum, as well, of course, to the acquiescence of a media and government which is too often willing to believe the worst about foreigners - something the people behind the anti-US and anti-LMB protests in 2002 and 2008 understood and exploited very well.

So then the question is - what do we do about this?

Kushibo has suggested that it is the fact that AES is seen as the 'go to' organization for news media when it comes to getting juicy quotes for stories about foreign teachers, and the fact they seem to have people in the government listening to them, that is the greatest problem, and suggests submitting a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission. It sounds like a good idea to me.

As Tony has pointed out, information on how to file a complaint is here, while the online complaint application is here.

There is a lot of information out there already that could be used in complaints. I'll likely try to compile more in the near future.


brent said...

Naver just told all of us to screw off. Thanks, Naver. I wonder if we could get Naver listed as a hate group for hosting and not removing AES after complaints?

Anonymous said...

"Naver just told all of us to screw off."

I don't think that is the case. I think thats the reaction that the KT and Kang Shin Who is trying to provoke.

In fact Naver has acknowledged that content is racially discriminatory. And has said directly that group complaints would help to motivate Naver to do more (hardly surprising).

Foreigners should avoid being baited and provoked by the KT. They should be the ones who decide the proper outcome of this issue, not Kang who spends 15 minutes on a fake article.

Foreign English teachers aren't the only ones the KT and Kang Shin Who are trying to provoke.

Notice that the article marks Vandom as a fugitive who is "still being sought" with a "visa longer valid." (Even though the letter says she is a UC Ph.D student currently living in California.) Notice also that KT and Kang Shin Who posted Vandom's photo (stolen from another article without permission) on the first Naver article that was printed in the papers. Keep in mind that this is all about a group that stalks foreigners.

What you have is encouragement for Vandom (who is "still being sought" by Immigration) to be tracked and found since immigration can't do it - this is where AES has their expertise.

brent said...

Mr. Wagner, I don't understand how you can read a quote like:
“Our monitoring team examined cases stipulated in the request and concluded that Andrea Vandom’s claim doesn’t merit any corrective action,” said Kim Hyun-chang, Naver’s PR official.

and think that this doesn't mean screw off? Have you read something else that we should know?

Anonymous said...

brent -

You have to remember where that quote was filtered through. This is a paper that starts out with the goal of writing a story that says "foreigners bring another meritless claim."

The same thing was said when Vandom refused to take the AIDS & drugs tests. First, MOJ said "she did indeed submit them, and that's why she got a visa." Then it was proved she didn't and they changed their story to "these tests are completely legitimate and there is absolutely no basis for challenging them." Then a public interest law firm took the case (obviously some merit). Then the Constitutional Court took the case - and they certainly could have refused it. So merit clearly established. Next, the MOJ says we are repealing the AIDS ban for foreigners, but we will wait to see if the Court says E-2 visa are discriminatory.

The whole time the KT was on the side of whoever said the claims were meritless. That's the fixed story: "foreigners make trouble for no damn good reason." That's what you will continue to see.

And now this article. As for that exact quote: "Our monitoring team examined cases stipulated in the request and concluded that Andrea Vandom’s claim doesn’t merit any corrective action."

Are we sure that's what was even said? Goodness knows the KT has had scores of other completely false quotes. Besides we have another extremely well researched article (as opposed to the KT spot piece) where a Naver official says "in this case 'black pig' is definitely a racist comment."

Now that's a quote with some specificity. Contrast that with the KT quote from Naver - assuming that it's even accurate (which is strongly in doubt) what does "cases stipulated in the request" really mean?

Does that mean Naver thinks its alright to say foreigners have AIDS and are actively targeting Korean children to infect them? Of course it doesn't. Those posts will be pulled, in fact are being pulled right now. Same as the "black pig[s]" comment.

But the KT doesn't want to report that and naturally NHN would like to avoid a controversy. So what you get is the manufactured quote we have.

As I said before:

Foreigners should avoid being baited and provoked by the KT. They should be the ones who decide the proper outcome of this issue, not Kang who spends 15 minutes on a fake article.

Alexander said...

I agree with Naver. Deal with it, it's called Free Speech.

You should fly over here to the States. We have tons of trash talk here by bloggers that makes the Anti-English spectrum seem mild in comparison. Mainstream media outlets like CNN and FOX actively cover foreign "invaders" and "Hispanic parasites" leeching off honest hard-working Americsns. Thank God Lou Dobbs is OUT!

Anonymous said...

You get less paid because the sex offenders and drug addicts hurt job professionalism of English teachers.

Chris in South Korea said...

@Brent: that may be the meaning you're getting out of it; whether someone else would use that term to describe their reaction is a different matter.

@B_Wagner: Is Ms. Vandom still in the country or not? What her letter says might be said to protect her from possible return fire from AES / Immigration. I presume she would need to be in the country for her future Supreme Court case, unless I'm completely mistaken.

Anonymous said...

"I agree with Naver. Deal with it, it's called Free Speech.

You should fly over here to the States. We have tons of trash talk here by bloggers that makes the Anti-English spectrum seem mild in comparison."

Show me the trash talkers saying someone has AIDS is trying to infect others. Show me a case of that being protected as "free speech." I'm also interested in what is "mild by comparision."

You misunderstand what "free speech" means. The below case Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) explains the law in the US, but also sets a limit that is uncontroversial around the world.

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

Similarly - whether in the US or Korea - it is not free speech to try to stir a social panic by falsely claiming foreigners have AIDS and are conspiring to infect the Korean population.

Darth Babaganoosh said...

Alexander, "free speech" is not absolute. There ARE limits to what you can and cannot say. I can think of at least a half dozen exceptions off the top of my head. A shame you can't.

brent said...

Thanks, Mr. Wagner for some clarification.

Does anyone have a direct quote from Naver unfiltered?

The article by Walsh says that AES is taking down some of the worst material. I would say then that this is at the very least a mild success. If they at least have to think twice before posting something ridiculous, that is a step forward.

Unknown said...

Ok, the photos are getting a little out of hand. Has anyone else noticed how all the news sites resuse the same photos over and over again? That is a photo of myself taken while in Singapore.

These sites are taking any photo of a suspected degenerate English teacher and posting them up.