An attempt by an independent publisher to get the word out about more than a hundred victims of occupational diseases at Samsung has hit an unexpected snag, after most of South Korea’s handful of independent media outlets refused to take advertisements for a set of two comic books about the outbreak of a variety of blood disorders at Samsung’s electronics affiliates.
As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after years of employment in the electronics industry in South Korea.
Of the 155, 62 have died. The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate. Among the 62 deaths were 55 Samsung employees.
In April 2012, Bori Publication Co., Ltd. approached about six independent print and online publications to place ads for two comics, The Smell of Humanity and A Dustless Room. Only two publications, online daily Pressian and independent daily Hankyoreh’s Internet TV unit Hani TV, took the ads. One publication rejected the ad after the publisher refused to remove references to Samsung from copy. Another publication rejected it, citing a conflict of interest between sponsors because Samsung is also a sponsor. A third publication demanded high premiums for the ads.
Samsung controls the lion’s share in the advertisement market. According to a survey, in 2008 the Samsung Group made up 40 percent of a total marketing and advertisement expenses of the country’s ten largest chaebols, or family-owned conglomerates.
Paradoxically, their financial vulnerability often leaves smaller and independent media more susceptible to Samsung’s pressure, tacit or otherwise. In fairness, the six publications ran favorable reviews of the two comic books.
A Dustless Room is about how Samsung’s clean rooms, where semiconductors are produced in an isolated environment, were designed and run to protect the integrity of chips at the cost of the workers’ safety.
Bori and SHARPS are relying on word of mouth and Twitter for the promotion of the books. The Smell of Humanity and A Dustless Room currently rank second and third on the top 100 comic books on Aladdin.co.kr, one of South Korea’s largest online bookstores.