The Need for Proper Censorship of Cultural Content
The Need for Proper Censorship of Cultural Content
  • 문화부 기자 우다은 국제부 기자 이은총
  • 승인 2012.05.11 12:02
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Several prominent cases of school violence have recently been publicized. As a result, school violence and bullying have become social issues. The Korea Communications Standards Commission (KOCSC) and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), correlate school violence with violent cultural content. As a result, cultural content shared by teenagers is regulated. The Observer investigated webtoons that have recently switched to self-regulation due to these controversies as well as newly introduced game regulatory systems.

School violence
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) conducted a survey on school violence from January 18th to February 20th in 2012. It was carried out targeting students from the fourth grade of elementary school to high school seniors all over the country. 1,390,000 (25%) of the 5,580,000 students total of all over the country participated in this survey. The MEST released the results of the survey on March 14th. The results showed that verbal abuse accounts for about 51% of all bullying cases. The rest of the cases of school violence fell into the categories of: threats or abuse at 37.8%, slander or abuse through Internet chatting 13.3%, and there were also lesser cases of e-mail and cell phone abuse. Other types of abuse were categorized from most to least common as: outcasting, extortion, physical acts of violence, confinement, servitude, and sexual harassment. 12.3% of students (170,000) surveyed responded they have experienced or witnessed school violence. Occurrences of school violence are also on the rise. Accordingly, the suicide rate due to school violence has also increased every year from 6.2 per 100,000 in 2006, to 7.9 in 2007, 8.0 in 2008 and 10.7 in 2009.

Regulatory agencies determined cultural content causes school violence
The KOCSC and the MOGEF determined teenagers are influenced by violence presented in cultural content, and that cultural content is one of the causes of school violence. In response, regulatory agencies have tightened regulations on webtoons and online games.

The Youth Protection Revision bill
If media is considered to have a bad influence on teenagers, it is designated as being “harmful to youth.” The Youth Protection Committee and regulatory agencies can apply this designation to any media when it includes “scenes that arouse teenagers sexual desire, promote teenagers’ violence or crime, glorify the use of violence or rape, obstruct formation of sound character or civic consciousness, does harm to physical and mental health, or if it is simply raunchy.”

The power of the game industry in Korea
Korean companies lead the global online game market. Presently, the game industry is a mainstay of our country's exports. Game industry exports account for 80% of national IP content exports. This far exceeds the total export market of music, films, and books. The size of the game industry grew from 830 billion won to 8.4 trillion won which is an increase of more than 10 times compared to 2000. According to the White Paper on Korean Games, a book that the Korea Creative Content Agency published, Korea is second in the world game export market accounting for 25.9% of all sales. China is first at 30.4%.

Present condition of game regulations
The original intent of the regulations was to prevent youth addiction. However, due to the recent serious problems related to school violence, many departments have started to regulate games in response. The government’s active response to this issue began in earnest in November 2011. Since game content was linked to the instigation of school violence, the regulations were put in place. The MOGEF has introduced the “Shutdown System.” The shutdown system has been enacted to cope with Internet game addiction and is often called “the Cinderella Law.” This system creates an online game curfew which requires game companies shut down service to users under the age of 16 during the hours of midnight to 6 a.m. The law applies to almost all domestic games with a few exceptions. The regulation has been enforced since November, 2011. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) is planning to implement a “Selective Shutdown System”. The selective shutdown system allows parents to set time limits. At the request of parents, game companies must release a breakdown of a teenage users' gaming hours, game content viewed, and payments made for games. The selective shutdown system is set to officially go ahead in August, 2012. Moreover, The MCST reinforces pre-censorship which sets game age ratings. The ministry also carries out youth game subscription limits. The MEST has introduced a cooling off system which automatically disconnects youths from online game sites after two hours of use. After two hours of playing a game, it forces online game players to take a 5 to 10 minute break and allows a maximum of 4 hours of game play a day. Moreover, the ministry limits the amount of game money that adolescents can use and the amount of game items they can trade.

Consequences of the regulations
After instituting the shutdown system, 6 of the most popular online games experienced a reduction of 5% of midnight users from 43,744 people to 41,796 people. Moreover, the MOGEF imposed a mandatory tax corresponding to 1% of gross sales every year. 1% of sales totals about 4 billion won. In addition, after the MEST announced regulatory policies for the game industry on February 6th, the stock prices of 13 out of 16 game companies dropped by 1% to 8%. Market capitalization was also reduced by more than 4 billion won that day. Currently, the game industry’s profits have declined by approximately 5%.

Backlash against the regulations
Game industries are concerned about stagnation in the game industry which represents a significant portion of the IT sector. Moreover, they insist that even though the presiding ministries did not present reasonable justifications for the current restrictions they went ahead with them anyway. Other criticisms are that the Korean government cannot enforce these regulations on foreign companies and service might not just be denied to adolescents, but to adults as well. For example, on March 17th Microsoft revealed that as they do not require personal information from users, they will block all Korean users because of the regulations. On the same date, Sony PSN announced their policy that they would not approve membership requests of adolescents under the age of 16. Many netizens also insist that the shutdown system is not actually effective because the system does not apply to foreign game companies that do not require personal information like offline games and console games, such as StarCraft, Play Station, and Diablo.


Webtoons had already experienced attempts at regulation, but these regulations were withdrawn on April 9th and were replaced with a policy of self-regulation. Twenty-four webtoons were designated as “harmful to youth” based on the reasoning that the violence in them led to school violence. Nineteen webtoons on Naver were designated as “harmful to youth,” for example “Knight Run,” “Now our school is…,” “Project X,” “Evidence,” and “Eui-ryeong-su.” On Daum, 5 webtoons were designated as “harmful to youth,” for example “Legendary Punch,” “Garon P,” “Left and Right,” and “The Five.” Legendary Punch features regret and reflection about violence. However, it was restricted to teenagers because it was deemed to glorify violence. “Hell,” “Mother” and “Dead of Dead” on Yahoo and “High School Freshmen,” as well as “High School Junior” on Paran were also labeled as being harmful.

Backlash against the regulations
Cartoonists and webtoon organizations campaigned against these designations. On January 10, 2012 organizations of cartoonists issued a statement of protest against regulations imposed by the Korea Communications Standards Commission. Twenty-four cartoonists were notified that their webtoons had received a “harmful to youth” designation. This led to webtoon organizations putting together an emergency measures committee. They started a formal blog, and posted on an Internet cafe and on Twitter. They collected signatures via those outlets to protest the “harmful to youth” designations. On January 27, 2012 there was a press conference in front of the KOCSC in Mok-dong, Seoul. At this press conference the cartoonists’ representatives said that cartoonists and portal sites have been self-regulating until now, but the KOCSC unilaterally applies the designation of “harmful to youth” without any consultation. The cartoonists further assert that this is unreasonable. The KOCSC designated webtoons as “harmful to youth,” but they did not list definite causes or specify the content that they deemed to be harmful. This shows the KOCSC has not considered each case thoroughly enough. They also stated that other cultural content has not been placed under as much scrutiny, and that webtoons have been singled out. Many netizens also campaigned against these regulations. These netizens posted their objections on the Internet and collected signatures against regulations on Internet cafes and blogs. They stated, “The KOCSC regulates scenes on webtoons that are deemed to be violent and cause violence by teenagers without proper investigation, so these regulation are not proper.” “Moreover, it is desirable that organizations of cartoons, cartoonists, and readers have to regulate themselves to establish sound Internet webtoon culture.” Withdrawal of regulation On April 9th, 2012, the KOCSC finally allowed self-regulation of webtoons through a business agreement after facing the backlash created by webtoon censorship. The contents of the agreement detailed a system of cooperation to work on a self-regulatory system. The agreement deals with mutual cooperation and public relations to promote a healthy Internet environment for teenagers who watch webtoons. Moreover, the KOCSC discussed sharing information and self-regulation about complaints regarding webtoons. After the agreement, The Korean Cartoonists Association declared their perspective that if the webtoons are designated “harmful to youth,” it could prevent a negative impact and may strengthen the self-regulatory system. Moreover, the KOCSC revealed their idea that through the agreement, a self-regulatory system will be established and the KOCSC predicted that webtoons would become a media platform that could be trusted by the public.

Regulation of media is necessary. The MEST, the MOGEF and other involved ministries showed their concern over the issue of school violence and in turn exerted their own authority. However, they currently designate media as being “harmful to youth” without clear judgment on the criteria to support the regulation of media to prevent violence. Each department should judge the media properly with clear reasoning and consideration of the features involved.

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