Saturday, August 13, 2005

Is is just me?

Or is there currently a problem accessing Blogspot and Typepad in Korea?

One year ago, Korea's MIC (Ministry of Information and Communication) quietly ordered these two internet domains blocked to prevent people within Korea from viewing online videos of Kim Sun-il's beheading at the knife-wielding hands of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad, the violent Islamist guerrilla and terrorist network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that operates in Iraq.

That block lasted about a month.

Since yesterday, I've been unable to access either Blogspot or Typepad. If the problem were just with my access of Blogspot, I'd assume that this domain is having temporary difficulties. But there's that disquieting problem with Typepad, too.

One year ago, when Blogspot and Typepad were being blocked, I encountered difficulty in carrying out my academic research since I rely on the internet to access much of the primary and secondary sources that I need, for not only Blogspot and Typepad were blocked but also various other domains. Here's the letter of mine that was published in the Korea Herald at the time (July 14, 2004):

As many of you are aware by now, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) is blocking millions of websites. As justification for this censorship, the MIC has explained that its intention is to block access to the video of Kim Sun-il's beheading at the hands of radical Muslims. Apparently, the MIC's aim has failed since many Koreans are reportedly sharing the video privately through other cybernetic means.

Many netizens have commented on the MIC's inconsistency in blocking the Kim Sun-il video while allowing videos showing the beheadings of foreigners such as Daniel Pearl, Nicholas Berg, and Paul Johnson. Netizens have also argued for total freedom of access to the internet as integral to the right of free expression. Roughly, the argument is that a free society depends upon free speech, and therefore upon free access to information.

The MIC might counter that blocking websites showing the beheading of Kim Sun-il poses no special threat to internet access and that there is an overriding need in this case to prevent emotional trauma to Kim's family. The fallacy in this argument is twofold. First, as already noted, the MIC has failed to stop many Koreans from viewing the video. Second, the MIC is not blocking just specific websites; it is blocking entire domains, millions of websites.

Censorship on this scale does pose an implicit threat to a free society. Take my situation. I am an assistant professor at Korea University, and my research interests are rather broad. Korean libraries do not always have the English-language sources that I need for my research, but thanks to Korea's cybernetic sophistication, I have been able to use the internet to meet most of my scholarly needs. Consequently, I have published on John Milton, Islamic radicalism, and the worldwide growth of Christian evangelicalism, among other articles. Recently, I have worked with scholars from Hanshin University and Yonsei University on a project investigating the problematics of Korean unification, for which I was almost totally dependent upon internet resources. In all of my research, I had always been very satisfied with my ability to access online articles.

Currently, however, I am encountering a problem. As I continue my research on various topics, I find that the blocking of domains has cut off access to many, many websites. A websearch process that once took only seconds is now impossible. I am merely one individual, but if we multiply my case by hundreds, thousands, even millions of others, then the danger to a free society becomes clearer.

Korea's deserved status as a modern society and its stated goal of becoming an economic hub for Northeast Asia will increasingly depend upon individuals having broad internet access. I therefore call upon the MIC to lift the blocking of domains and again allow free access to the internet.

Horace Jeffery Hodges, Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Korea University

That was one year ago, and the block was eventually, and quietly, lifted -- probably not in response to my letter. As for my current lack of access to parts of the internet, I can't see any reason for the MIC to be blocking websites since there's no ongoing controversy about any major issues . . . right?

Well . . . there is that remark by Unification Minister Chung Dong-young about South Korea's negotiating position in the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programs:

Our position is that North Korea should justly have the right to use nuclear (sic) for peaceful purposes such as agriculture, medical use and electricity generation as its general right. (Lee Joo-hee, "N.K. has right to peaceful nuclear use: Chung," The Korea Herald, August 12, 2005, 1B)

But we know that there's no controversy here over Chung undermining the American position at the six-party negotiations by publicly revealing to North Korea a major policy difference between the South Korean and the American allies, for the Americans have quickly reassured everybody that there is no controversy:

"There's no rift between the United States and South Korea. We are close allies. We are close partners in a broad bilateral relationship and particularly in our common approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula," said Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman of Washington State Department said Thursday. (Lee Joo-hee, "Washington stresses no rift with South Korea," The Korea Herald, August 13, 2005)

You see, nothing to worry about, for the differing South Korean and American positions are actually the same because the two allies share a "common approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula" even though they don't mean the same thing by "denuclearizing."

One might be concerned over such discrepancies, but I've decided to stop worrying about this rift. It's now big enough to take care of itself.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Isaac Kerson said...

Yes, all Blogspot and Typepad sites are blocked in Korea. I fail to see the logic or the motive behind it. Is the MIC trying to block the Korean public from seeing uncensored pictures from the Music Camp debacle? The pictures are likely out there in some form already. Although, that has never stopped the MIC before. Stupidity knows no limits.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger gordsellar said...

I have a big mainstream provider, hanaro, and while I had problems for a couple of days, they passed and I'm not having any trouble with Blogspot and Typepad. Could it be some idiot further down the foodchain, like an idiot within a certain provider company or something? Which service are you using?

At 4:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm . . . maybe Ike is correct that the MIC is trying to block online pictures of naked Korean rock stars.

My wife is going to check with our internet service provider today, but reports of problems from various bloggers across Korea imply that this is not limited to a singe ISP.


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