Kim Ki-choon (left) and Cho Yoon-sun
Former presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon and ex-Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun are being sentenced on Thursday on charges of blacklisting thousands of artists and cultural figures “hostile” to ex-President Park Geun-hye.
The two and five other officials in the Park administration were indicted in February. Park is also separately on trial on these charges, among many others she faces in the massive corruption scandal that brought her down.
The court had to decide if the Park government intended to cut off public funding for the blacklisted artists, and whether that was criminal or a legitimate use of its discretion or not.
Kim, an ancient retainer to the Park family, denies ordering any such blacklist to be drawn up at all. Cho has admitted the blacklist existed but argued that state funding for artists and cultural figures from limited government funds can change according to policy decisions.
The defendants have also claimed that their intention was not to completely exclude “hostile” artists and other cultural figures from state funding but to recommend that they fall in line with the official ideology.
Park has seemed chiefly concerned about buffing up the image of her late father, strongman Park Chung-hee, and appeared to take any criticism personally. Evidence suggests that Kim saw it as his role to serve the Parks rather than the democratic state.
The independent counsel who probed the case said, “This was not merely a policy decision, but a crime where the president and her chief of staff abused their power to violate artists’ freedom of expression”.
He added that arbitrarily excluding them from funding designated by the state under independent criteria is unacceptable in a democracy.
A key point of interest in the verdict is that public funding for civic groups or the arts has always varied according to the ideology of different administrations in the past, and the process has never been scrutinized by law so far.
Legal experts therefore expect Thursday’s ruling to serve as an important precedent in future judicial review of state funding.
Some artists testified in court that their funding was inexplicably cut off, while culture ministry officials admitted that Cheong Wa Dae told them to blacklist certain artists and cultural figures.
Park’s own indictment states that she told her staff on Sept. 30, 2013 that there were “many problems in left-leaning art and culture circles” and went on to cite the Lotte and CJ conglomerates as funding the production of movies she considered unsympathetic.
If Kim and Cho are found guilty, another plank in her defense of complete ignorance could crumble.