Over the past three days, several South Korean pro-business publications finally broke their long silence on SHARPS’s ongoing 280-day-plus sit-in-but only to slander it, while at the same time, continuing to embellishing the public image of Lee Jae-yong, the heir apparent of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and other affiliates.
On July 13, at least three newspapers ran similarly worded reports, criticizing some victims of Samsung’s occupational disease cluster and SHARPS advocates for taking a two-day-and-one-night retreat to a beach town over the weekend.
Since Oct. 7, 2015, SHARPS and its supporters have been staging a sit-in at Samsung D’light, the company’s so-called global exhibition space, calling for the world’s largest technology firm to resume dialogue with the advocate group and cluster victims over a publicly verifiable safety measure and transparent and fair reparations.
The articles smeared SHARPS and its supporters for going on a retreat together on July 8-9 when members of Human Rights Fund, the non-profit human rights advocacy group led by Park Lae-goon, one the country’s most respected human rights campaigners, filled in for them at the sit-in.
Protest for Protest’s Sake?
“While crying for the desperation of the occupational disease issue, SHARPS took vacations and left the sit-in to others,” Munhwa Il Bo said on July 13. “According to some opinions, SHARPS are professional protestors who protest for protest’s sake, regardless of their demand.” the newspaper concluded, cowardly wrapping its own opinion-or Samsung’s—in “some opinions.” On the same day of its release, the article was featured on the front page of Samsung’s Intranet.
On July 14, Financial News, another business publication, went further in saying: “the desperation of the sit-in has vanished and it has become business as usual.”
“They [SHARPS] said their sit-in entered into 279 days as of July 11,” Seoul Economic Daily said on July 12. “They still count the two days of vacations into it.”
The three newspapers all painted SHARPS’s attempts to engage supporters in the sit-in as something akin to hiring substitute protesters. Both Munhwa Il Bo and Financial News quoted an anonymous Samsung source who said, “It is highly likely that SHARPS’s sit-in is in breach of law.” None have sought comment from SHARPS.
“These journalists do not understand the concept of solidarity” Lim Ja-woon, legal counsel with SHARPS, told Media Today, the media watchdog, commenting on the reports. “Samsung shows antipathy when there is somebody [to turn to] with its cluster victims.”
Lim warned Samsung against its attempts to drive a wedge between cluster victims and their advocates, saying, “The recent slander by these newspapers bears similarity to Samsung’s attempts to limit the scope of the cluster issue only to the victims’.”
Lee Jae-yong: Boy Meets World?
In South Korea, Samsung controls the lion’s share in the print ad market. In the past six years, as if in a show of force, Samsung has been placing front-page ads in the New Year issues of more than 20 national dailies.
While much of the country’s mainstream media remains silent or often sullies Samsung-cluster victims and SHARPS, it is actively engaged in boosting Lee Jae-yong, Samsung’s 48-year-old heir apparent whose only known business record to date is a bankrupt Internet company.
On July 15, a number of South Korean dailies ran a picture of Lee and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty taken at Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, an exclusive media finance conference also known as “Summer Camp For Billionaires.”
Samsung probably believes that a picture of Lee with a female global business leader can help further groom Lee’s image as what local media call him: the Royal Prince of Samsung. However, what really unites Rometty and Lee is their recent attempts to appease investor doubts about their competence with increased dividends or frequent stock buybacks.