Monday, November 16, 2009

NSETs versus AES in the KT (Or, yankers of wankers)

The news is a few days old by now, but the much derided Korea Times staff reporter Kang Shin-who wrote a piece on the efforts by ATEK (Association for Teachers of English in Korea) and English lecturer Andrea Vandom to get popular Korean web portal's parent company, NHN, to yank racist material from the Anti-English Spectrum website.

This move is not without controversy. For starters, the original title of the Popular Gusts post that announced this move said that ATEK wants Naver to "pull the plug on the Anti-English Spectrum." The Marmot may not have been alone in thinking that ATEK wanted Naver to remove the AES site:
Personally, I think Anti-English Spectrum are a bunch of wankers, and their stalking activities, if illegal, should be dealt with, but pressuring Naver to shut them down? I’m not sure if I like where this is going…
His interpretation was the same as mine (pulling the plug on something means preventing it from continuing), but ATEK insisted they only wanted to yank the offensive material, not turn the lights out on the entire AES site, and matt at Popular Gusts changed the title to something considerably less incendiary: "ATEK on Andrea Vandom's letter to NHN Corp."

Okay, then. I can respect that poor word choice should not scuttle what might otherwise be a noble effort. And by "noble effort," I certainly mean that my hat's off to ATEK and Andrea Vandom for, at the very least, actually putting word into action instead of just sitting behind a computer complaining in the comments section of someone's blog and moaning about AES being such racists.

But, respectfully, I don't agree with how they're going about this. Back in September, I suggested that a case be made against AES:
Clearly [AES founder Lee Eun-ung] has enough influence that he's a go-to guy for lazy journalists at the KT and CSI, and insofar as he is apparently running a hate group, that should be put to a stop.

Among the stuff that he acknowledges on his site, what would constitute a hate crime or hate speech? How about in his television appearances or quotes in the printed media?

It's time to make a case against AES to a group like the National Human Rights Commission. Taint them like Acorn, preferably by hoisting him on his own petard.
Others agreed, and I put out feelers with the NHRCK about this. The following is the body of an email I sent a day or so later:
I am writing to you because I have some questions about how to proceed about a certain issue that has become very troubling in recent months.

There is a group called Anti-English Spectrum that purports to get rid of "illegal English teachers" in Korea.

There are many in South Korea's English-speaking foreign community that are concerned about this group because it appears to be promoting hatred and spreading false information about English teachers and other foreigners living in Korea.

In particular, the group claims to track (stalk) foreigners trying to find information to use to get them deported (such as drug use, illegal teaching, etc.). It appears they may be stalking people who are innocent of these crimes as well. Whatever the situation, they are singling out their targets based on race. It also appears that their motivation is due to animosity toward Koreans and non-Koreans who engage in interracial dating.

What makes this group further dangerous is that many newspapers like the Chosun Ilbo and the Korea Times routinely quote them in stories about foreign criminals, even though their data may be inaccurate.

What I'm writing about now is to find out what can be done about this group. Is it possible to investigate them for violations of human rights or promoting hate crimes? Is it possible to file a petition against them?

I appreciate any advice you can give me.
Unfortunately, my several emails to the NHRCK contact email have not yet received a reply. If I were in Seoul, I would walk from my apartment to their offices in Ŭlchiro-1-ga, or at least give a call, but I'm a bit hamstrung being over here in Hawaii. [In a similar way, it has been difficult tracking down some of the HIV testing- and treatment-related information I need; emails get ignored much more readily than in-person visits or phone calls.]

At any rate, and this is the primary reason for this post, I think ATEK is going about this the wrong way and I think they should consider getting AES listed as a hate group or some such before they pursue other channels. As I wrote at Brian's:
Interested groups should go first to the human rights commission and have them investigate the group, and push the case there that AES is a hate group.

From there, dealing with AES vis-à-vis Naver would be an easier task and one that would be taken more seriously because it would carry more weight.
Ben Wagner, one of those spearheading ATEK-related causes these past months, told me I am free to file a complaint on my own:
You can file a complaint Kushibo. The NHRCK takes 3rd party complaints. Please do and post about it.
I have publicly voiced criticisms of ATEK actions in the past, and I detected in Ben Wagner's remark that he felt that I was taking more potshots than action, which is why I responded with the letter I had sent in order to pursue the very course of action I was recommending for ATEK.

While I could very well be wrong about my above assessment of Ben Wagner's tone, he was good enough (maybe because he was surprised that I had actually been taking this seriously as an issue) to point me, as I'd requested of him, toward someone to contact directly. That is something I shall do tomorrow.

But me doing that does not address the issue at hand: Is it a good idea for ATEK to be pursuing AES in this manner? Frankly, I think they are going through the wrong avenues in the wrong order, and perhaps even overstepping their bounds.

The overstepping their bounds part is where they are trying to enlist the aid of Korea-born mayor of the Orange County community of Irvine, California, where NHN's American offices are located, in their cause. As a former resident of Irvine and one involved in Korean-American issues, I find this quite troubling. Asian-American politics are a sticky business, and it is often detrimental to AA politicians to be seen as getting sucked into political positions based favoring or oriented toward one's "motherland." Seriously, would Irvine mayor Kang Suk-hee be dragged into this if he weren't Korean-American?

For that matter, why are NHN's American offices being dragged into this? NHN's original founders may both be in the US, but AES is not operating out of the United States, are they? The regulations ATEK is attempting to use in order to remove the offensive material are Korean regulations, aren't they? This is about playing the national shame card, and it has a huge potential to blow up in ATEK's faces.

One major problem with this approach is that even if it succeeds, the success will be short-lived. AES can remove some materials, but those could easily be replaced merely by toned-down materials that don't violate any regulations, even if the spirit of the group remains. Moreover, if the effort fails, it makes other action harder and makes ATEK radioactive.

ATEK is not playing the hand they've been given: AES is a hate group, and it should be outed as such publicly — via the NHRCK — so that its credibility will be shot to hell. It is not the site that does so much damage, if all the K-blog reports on AES are to be believed, but their connections with the media and the legislature. They must be discredited! Taking it to the NHRCK is the best course of action right now.

Sh¡t, I would seriously go over to the NHRCK offices right now if I were in Seoul, but I'm not. I'm not an English teacher, my visa is not an E2, and currently I'm outside of the country. I am not the one to go and spearhead this. I'm happy to lend my support in the ways I can, but it has to be someone who is there.

Seoul office of NHRCK (02-2125-9718 or 02-1331):
Pusan office (051-710-9716):
[Maps and contact information for offices in Kwangju and Taegu are available here.]

And maybe it doesn't have to be an NSET. If AES is really promoting hatred of foreigners, it is more than just teachers who should be concerned. Come on, people follow the links to the emails and do something. Or do as Ben Wagner suggested and write a letter. Here's the brick-and-mortar address of NHRCK in Seoul:
Gumsegi Building
#16 Ulchiro-1-ga
Chung-gu, Seoul 100-842

If I do not receive a response by the middle of this week, I will be doing the same. I am adamant that this is the best first step for any action against AES. In the absence of AES being designated as a hate group or receiving some other official scarlet H, the attempt to remove content posted on their site takes on an entirely different meaning, one that is not lost on Koreans or Americans. Asking Naver to take down regulations-violating material by an organization listed as a hate group has the air of proper procedure, whereas, in the absence of such a designation, it looks just like one group is just trying to silence a group they don't like.

Such a designation would also leave AES with less power to retaliate, since that scarlet H would follow them around as they go to the press, the legislature, or to other groups. Think how easy it would be for ATEK or anybody else to simply discredit whatever came out of the AES founder's mouth if they just say, "Mr Lee and his organization have been designated a hate group."

In the absence of such a designation, it's simply a matter of his group's opinion versus ATEK's opinion, and most spectators don't have the time to read through every ATEK press release or Popular Gusts post to find out who's right.

So it is my hope that ATEK will quickly table (as in shelve) this matter for the time being and pursue instead getting AES designated as a hate group. This is prudent, it follows official channels, it makes it harder for AES to retaliate, and it is a simpler result for people unfamiliar with this issue to get their heads around.

And this is not even getting into the issue of free speech. I'm not the only one who has raised the question of who in particular has been harmed by AES's material. It's a hard case to prove that people have been harmed in such a way that this group's right to free speech should be taken away. Without this organization being designated as a hate group, it can easily be seen as a case of blocking things you simply don't want to hear.

And where would that end? The Korea Times comments section and Dave's ESL Café are full of comments just as racist and derogatory as AES, if not worse. The Orange County Register comments section, I've mentioned from time to time, is full of some of the vilest things you'll ever read about Hispanics (and occasionally Blacks and Asians). Do all these get shut down? Why AES and not other sites?

As a teenager, I recall when Beatles' songs such as Revolution or Sting's Russians were censored out of Culture Ministry-approved albums in South Korea. Others not much older than me recall when people were arrested, beaten, and/or tortured for saying the wrong thing. Consequently, a lot of people are squeamish about snuffing out someone's right to say something — even something nasty.

In other words, without the hate group designation, you're fighting a battle that is infused with meaning you don't intend.

That said, if ATEK insists on going ahead with this ill-advised scheme, it is my fervent hope that they succeed. A loss would be worse than a win, even if it's a better idea to have played a different game in the first place.


  1. See this line? ATEK is not playing the hand they've been given: ATEK is a hate group, and it should be outed as such publicly — via the NHRCK — so that its credibility will be shot to hell.

    I don't think you mean ATEK is a hate group. I think you mean AES is a hate group. Also, do you know you can file a complaint from the NHRCK's website, and they are mandated to respond to such complaints? A letter can be ignored, but the UN tracks how many formal complaints they get and how they are resolved.

  2. Oh, crap. Thanks for the correction.

    And do you have the link to the complaint form handy, so that I can link to it in an update on this post?

  3. How to file a complaint:

    Online complaint application:

    There you go. --Tony Hellmann

  4. Those maps that you have fail to show the number, density and location of room salons and Family Marts!

  5. Edward, I don't think you're taking this seriously.

  6. I am adding much needed light-heartedness to the matter.

    You should thank me!... ;)


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