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(LEAD) Culture ministry apologizes for 'blacklist' of artists

All News 17:15 January 23, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more details about statement in last four paras, photo; CHANGES headline and lead)

SEJONG, Jan. 23 (Yonhap) -- The culture ministry on Monday offered a public apology for a blacklist of artists banned from government support and vowed to make an effort to prevent any recurrence after a number of former and current ministry officials were arrested for their alleged involvement in the listing.

"We feel terrible and ashamed that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism caused any problems in the fairness of the government's support of the culture-arts scene over the list of artists excluded from public support. (The ministry) is supposed to defend the freedom and creativity of artistic expression," Song Soo-keun, the first vice culture minister who currently acts as minister, said during a news conference.

He read a prereleased statement from senior ministry officials, including himself, during the conference at the ministry office building in Sejong City, south of Seoul.

Song Soo-keun (4th from L), first vice culture minister, and Yu Dong-hun (1st from R), second vice culture minister, bow during a news conference to make a public apology over "blacklist" allegations at the ministry office in Sejong, south of Seoul, on Jan. 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

"We should have thoroughly apprehended this problem beforehand, unearthed the truth and worked out preventative measures. But we didn't... There is no excuse," he said.

The ministry vowed to "fully cooperate" with the investigation so the truth can be found and to "take due responsibility" if any.

The apology came two days after its minister Cho Yoon-sun was arrested by special prosecutors along with Kim Ki-choon, an ex-presidential chief of staff, over their suspected roles in the blacklisting. Cho instantly resigned from her post following the arrest.

Prosecutors suspect that President Park Geun-hye sought to make a blacklist of about 10,000 artists critical of the government's handling of the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry in 2014 or who openly declared their support for opposition politicians in the past. The ferry disaster claimed more than 300 lives, mostly high school students on a field trip.

Cho's predecessor Kim Jong-deok and his deputies Kim Jong and Chung Kwan-joo are also currently under custody by prosecutors over their alleged involvement in the writing and management of the list.

They are being probed as part of a wider political scandal surrounding impeached President Park and her close confidante Choi Soon-sil. Choi is accused of exerting undue influence over state affairs by using her ties to the president for personal gain.

Both Park and Choi have refuted being involved in any wrongdoing.

Acting culture minister Song Soo-keun listens to a question from a reporter during a news conference to make a public apology over the "blacklist" allegations at the ministry office in Sejong, south of Seoul, on Jan. 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

In addition, the ministry unveiled measures to prevent similar cases from occurring.

"We'll use the incident as a chance for painful self-reflection... We'll reform the current system of cultural administration to ensure fairness in the government policies and support for the culture-arts sector," Song said.

For this, he said his ministry will organize a task force mainly composed of artists which will discuss measures to ensure the autonomy of the cultural field. The organization will also be tasked with monitoring any government infringement of their artistic freedom.

The government will also amend a relevant law to insert a clause to fundamentally prevent unjust treatment of artists based on their artistic expression or political activities, he said.


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