Actress Kim Min-sun was one of many entertainers who protested against the government’s decision to allow back U.S. beef into Korean markets.
By Park Si-soo
Actress Kim Min-sun won a legal battle Tuesday, started by an American beef importer for an article she wrote two years ago on her private blog that allegedly exaggerated the risk of mad cow disease associated with U.S. beef.
In May 2008, when the country was trapped in heated debate over the resumption of U.S. beef imports and its association with mad cow disease, the actress said in the article, "I would gulp a cup of potassium cyanide rather than eat a piece of American beef infected with the disease."
As the comment drew media attention, an American beef importer in Seoul, A-Meat, filed a suit against the actress and five staff members of an investigative TV journal, PD Notebook, for interrupting its business by spreading what it called "groundless" information about the imported beef. The importer also claimed its bottom line was hit hard by her defamatory article.
But the Seoul Southern District Court Tuesday ruled the actress and the TV program were not liable for any damages to the importer.
Judge Kim Sung-gon said in the ruling, "Her article revealed no specific information associated with the plaintiff. So it cannot be seen that her article interrupted its business." The judge also acquitted the five TV producers, saying the program was wholly based on data they compiled in the belief that they were all scientifically grounded.
"Also, the program was to criticize the government for a deal with Washington allegedly endorsed in a cursory manner, not a specific company," the judge said.
Two years have passed since the social unrest, provoked by the resumption of U.S. beef imports without thorough restrictions to keep risky parts of American beef at bay, ended.
To quell enraged citizens, who took to major streets for three months, President Lee Myung-bak solicited for the U.S. government to modify the terms of the contract signed between the two parties, made public apologies and reshuffled the Cabinet.
But society is still divided and shows no immediate sign of mending the rift. Rather, what is left over from the unrest is still plaguing the administration by providing a ground for ideological showdowns between those in favor of the conservative administration and its opponents, levying a heavy political burden on President Lee, who is in the midst of his five-year presidency.
The latest controversy, associated with the beef scandal two years ago, resurfaced after a court ruling early this month that exonerated the five TV producers from defamation charges.
On Jan. 20, the Seoul Central District Court cleared them on defamation charges for allegedly wrongly portraying the actions of two senior state trade negotiators during the Seoul-Washington talks to resume U.S. beef imports in 2008.
The ruling provoked immediate condemnation from conservative activists and politicians, pressuring the head of the judiciary to step down, calling the verdict a decision based on ideological bias. Some overzealous activists even staged rallies in front of the home of the judge in charge of the case, calling for his resignation.
Liberal activists and politicians condemned their moves, describing a series of acts by their counterparts as politically motivated moves to sway the judiciary, whose independent operation is guaranteed under the Constitution.
Galvanized by the ruling, the ruling Grand National Party is now pushing a package of bills to tighten its grip on the judiciary, while opposition parties are trying to strike down the attempt.