News / Asia

Hit South Korean Podcast Sparks Controversy

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (file photo)
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (file photo)
Jason Strother

A South Korean online radio show is one of the most downloaded programs on the Internet. It is a political satire that makes fun of President Lee Myung bak and criticizes many of his policies. But some observers say it crosses the line between comedy and conspiracy. From Seoul, reporter Jason Strother tells us more about it.

Nanun Ggom Su Da debuted earlier this year and has attracted a huge following in South Korea. The weekly podcast, which in English translates roughly as “I’m a Petty Minded Creep,” gets about two million downloads on the Apple iTunes network. The show mixes comedy with politics. And its sarcasm is apparent as soon as you hit play.

President Lee Myung Bak is the “Petty Minded Creep” of the show’s title. The four hosts of Na Ggom Su, as its known for short, lampoon the leader, referring to him mostly as "his highness". They say they deliver news that is not covered by the nation’s conservative media.

Recently the show’s creators held a news conference in Seoul. One of the men, Chung Bong-ju, a former lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Party, says that too many young Koreans have become apathetic to the nation’s politics. He says in Korean society, politicians are not trusted.  He says young people are not interested and only conservative people end up voting, because they do not see how politics affect their lives.  That is why he wants to popularize politics and shed a new light on it, he says.

The show’s rare political humor is one reason why so many listeners download the program.

Baek Ji-Min says that is why she became hooked on Na Ggom Su. The 39-year-old says before she started listening to the show, she did not care about what was happening in the South Korean government.

“They make fun of the leader of this country - that’s so not common, she said. "It’s so funny but later I really got into the content itself, I learned so many things from the show.”

Kim Young-chul, a politics professor at Busan University, says, given Korea’s current political climate, it is not surprising Na Ggom Su has become popular so quickly.

Kim says many Koreans feel left out of the political process. Na Ggom Su tries to speak on behalf of those people.  He says the show has created the image that they are telling Koreans the truth about politics.

But Kim says what Na Ggom Su says is the truth is more of a reflection of the show’s anti-conservative bias. Kim and other critics say the hosts sometimes cross the line between comedy and spreading conspiracies.

A continuing theme throughout Na Ggom Su is how a recently ratified trade deal between South Korea and the U.S. directly benefits President Lee.

Host Kim Ou-joon explains how the pieces all fit together. Kim says in the industries that are profiting from the free trade agreement there are a lot of people who are close or related to "his highness", President Lee.   He says, if that was not the case, Lee would not have pushed for the FTA’s ratification.

Analyst Kim Young-chul says while Na Ggom Su has won many fans with its reporting of alleged government wrong doing, he does not feel the show alone will impact national elections in 2012.

Kim says Na Ggom Su’s political bias pretty much appeals to those who already share their ideals. He doubts that their message will sway voters enough next year during the National Assembly or presidential elections.

But Na Ggom Su’s reports have created legal problems for the show’s hosts.

They have been indicted for spreading rumors during October’s race for Seoul mayor.  One of the show's creators has had his passport application rejected because of an ongoing lawsuit brought on by Lee Myung Bak himself.

Na Ggom Su creator Kim Ou-joon says the show's creators will not be intimidated by lawsuits. He says the show will go on, at least until President Lee is no longer in office.

He says they will only be here for a moment, after the next presidential election they will just go away.

Kim promises that when President Lee’s term in office expires in February 2013, the jokes about him also will end.

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