A student newsweekly at one of South Korea’s most prestigious colleges has left blank the front page of its latest issue, after a report critical about Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. was censored by the college.
Blank Front Page
Daehak Shinmun, of Seoul National University, on March 12 published an extra with a blank front page, after its supervising professor censored an article about SHARPS’s advocacy campaigning for Samsung’s occupational-disease victims.
Daehak Shinmun is the official student press funded entirely by Seoul National University, the country’s finest, where future elites go to school. SNU was also a hotbed of student activism against political authoritarianism in the 1960s-1980s when students often protested the police over unwarranted seizure and censorship of the newspaper.
However, in the newspaper’s 65-year history, it was unprecedented for student journalists to raise their own funds to publish an extra in protest against the university’s own censorship. According to Daehak Shinmun, in January, the newspaper’s faculty advisor, Prof. Leem Kyung-hoon, of political science and international relations, expunged a report about SHARPS, citing its bias in favor of Samsung-cluster victims. Prof. Leem, whose PhD dissertation was about labor solidarity in Russia, rejected a proposal by student editors to expand the report to include Samsung’s view.
On March 8, 2017, he resigned from the supervisory position, but Daehak Shinmun journalists have yet to win the repeal of that professor’s seat on the editorial board.
Samsung and SNU
It was not the first time that SNU students came to loggerheads with the administration over Samsung. In January 2013, the university’s sociology department rescinded the appointment as visiting scholar of Hwang Chang-gyu, former semiconductor chief of Samsung, after fifteen days of strident protests by students and SHARPS supporters. During his stint as president of semiconductors in 2004-2008, a cluster of blood disorders took hold at Samsung.
Hwang, a PhD in electronic engineering, had no grounding in sociology. Nevertheless, the faculty said in a statement announcing the rescission: “Interpreting Dr. Hwang’s hiring as a move to desert labor and side with capital cannot rescue sociology from the 20th-century paradigm.”
“Although there is nothing unusual about Samsung’s meddling in the press,” SHARPS said in a statement on March 13, “we are saddened and angered by the fact that such a thing is now happening to the college press.”
SNU student journalists’ protests came at a time when their university is declining in public accountability. Incorporated in 2011, SNU is no longer a public institution. The university now runs in the red and needs corporate funding.
On March 14, 2017, SNU mobilized hundreds of security guards to evict students who had been staging a sit-in for 153 days from the main building. The eviction turned violent when the guards used fire hoses to shoot the protesters with blasts of high-pressure water. The students were protesting the university’s plan to build a new campus, which will include upscale retirement homes and a five-star hotel.
SHARPS’s Sit-in Continues
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 in south Seoul, calling for the world’s largest technology company to: 1) compensate all victims of occupational disease transparently and sufficiently; and 2) make a sincere and full apology.