Archive for the power of words

The power of words

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , on 14 January 2009 by Maggie

In today’s Wall Street Journal, an article appeared in World News about a blogger in South Korea who was arrested for criticizing the government’s economic policy.  The blogger’s words, the government claims, led to the drop in South Korea’s currency – the won.

According to the article, Park Dae-sung, writing under the pseudonym Minerva, is a widely read blogger who apparently posted a blog on December 29th accusing South Korea’s bureaucrats of sending a letter to bankers encouraging them to refrain from buying U.S. dollars in order to raise the value of the won.  His opinion was that bureaucrats were trying to undercut the government’s measures to help banks obtain U.S. dollars. 

The government claims this one blog sent the value of the won through the floor, caused the government to intervene in trading, and thus the arrest.  What this really seems to speak to, though, is the mindset of the Korean government, which is trying to paint an “it’s-not-happening-to-us” picture in the midst of the global economic crisis.  Since last September, they have been striking out at economists and journalists for portraying South Korea in a less-than-stellar light, but this is the first arrest.

Mr. Dae-sung’s arrest, to quote the Wall Street article, seems to highlight “two facets of Seoul’s response to the economic crisis that worry analysts:  a currency policy that isn’t transparent enough for traders and an intolerance of criticism of public policy.”

The point is clear here, when looking at a graph showing the decline of the won against the dollar.  The steady decline started in August, well before Mr. Dae-sung wrote his blog, plummeted in September, and in fact appears to have risen after Mr. Dae-sung’s blog was picked up by news sources.


I’m not even going to try to be unbiased about this.  Why?  I am a blogger.  I do not work for any news agency nor do I work for the government.  Neither does Mr. Dae-sung.  To the best of my knowledge, he is just a guy, like I am just a girl.  Granted, he’s a really smart guy, predicting the collapse of Lehman Brothers among other things, but he’s just a guy.

South Korea’s response doesn’t surprise me.  They have not quite grasped the lessons the U.S. government and other Western sovereign states would like to teach the world about how to handle insubordinate citizens.  It takes a little more finesse than an outright arrest.  You do things like, oh, say, take away their passports, instead.  There is less hue and cry from the world when you do something like that.  The arrest of an average citizen for having an opinion?  The world will get them for that.  They really should take a few lessons from the West and learn be more underhanded.

Words are powerful tools.  Hopefully, most of us in the blogging world use them wisely.  Still, even in using them wisely, we may find ourselves in trouble.  I’ve been there.  It certainly hasn’t stopped me.  I rather doubt it will stop Mr. Dae-sung.

Hang in there, Mr. Dae-sung.  You have lots of support.