By Kim Young-jin
A second military unit has blocked its troops from downloading smartphone applications critical of the Lee Myung-bak administration or deemed pro-North Korean, officials said Monday amid an ongoing debate over how to handle such politically sensitive material.
The order came courtesy of a commander of the Sixth Army Corps, who on Jan. 17 instructed troops of a subordinate unit to delete or halt any downloading of 10 such apps, the officials said. A similar order was handed down to a unit under the Army Logistics Command in a move revealed last week.
The moves have drawn attention given their inclusion of the popular podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda” (I’m a Petty Trickster), which has built massive popularity by criticizing the conservative administration.
They also represent the latest instance of the nation seeking to balance security with concerns over freedom of expression and sensitive issues ahead of the April parliamentary and December presidential polls this year.
While the program has taken aim at the conservative camp — rocked by a slew of corruption scandals — the show has not said it supports the North.
The blacklisted apps also included “Smart Card” which criticizes Lee’s hard line Pyongyang policy and North Korea World, which provides information on tourism to the Stalinist state. The two Koreas remain technically at war and in 2010 the North waged two deadly provocations near the maritime border.
One official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity said the Sixth Army Corps made the list “stressing security” while adding a similar move was not widespread in other units.
Ten days after the order was issued, the troops’ smartphones were inspected to make sure the apps had not been downloaded.
Naneun Gomsuda, one of the most downloaded podcasts on the Apple iTunes store, has become a magnet for criticism since it began last April. While embraced for what fans call an alternative to conservative-dominated media, critics say the allegations it levels at the president go too far.
Pressure over such politically-sensitive material is nothing new.
Frank La Rue, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the freedom of expression, said last year that that during election campaigns here it is “difficult to distinguish expression that is permitted from that which is prohibited.”
International media have paid particular attention to the Lee administration’s heightened use of the National Security Law, which is frequently used to investigate those who “praise, disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups,” namely the North.
The number of prosecutions for online postings deemed as pro-North Korean jumped from five in 2008 to 82 in 2010. Police last year asked the Korea Communications Commission to delete over 80,000 postings praising the North, compared to less than 2,000 two years prior.
Amnesty International has been slamming the administration for the imprisonment of a man accused of aiding the North by posting links to the communist’s states propaganda.
Park Jeong-geun, 24, says he made the posts because he was interested in North Korea. The international organization called the case “ludicrous.”