Censorship
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The Republic of Korea 🇰🇷, commonly referred to as South Korea, is an Asian country. It has the highest proportion of Christians of any East Asian country.

Laws provide free speech to limit censorship. In the past, censorship was pervasive, particularly during the dictatorships of Park Chung-hee (1965-1979) and Chun Doo-hwan (1980-1988).

General censorship[]

  • Homosexuality in general is not outlawed in South Korea. However, in the military, homosexuality is a crime.
  • Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea remains pervasive to this day.
  • From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, censorship in South Korea was very strict due to political turmoil and a blend of Confucian, Shamanistic, Buddhist and Christian values. In the past 20+ years, censors became somewhat more lenient.

Book censorship[]

  • Until the late 1980s, literary works written by writers who ended up in North Korea when Korea was partitioned were banned.
  • Books written in North Korea are usually banned. Libraries will have a special section for North Korean books, which is exclusively open to researchers.
  • Since 1 August 2008, 23 books were banned from being distributed to South Korean military.
    • Year 501: The Conquest Continues - this politics work by Noam Chomsky is banned from distribution in South Korean military.
    • Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism - this non-fiction work by economist Ha-joon Chang was banned for distribution within the South Korean military.
    • One Spoon on This Earth - this novel by Hyun Ki-young was banned for distribution within South Korean military for being "pro-North Korea".
  • Norwegian Wood - this novel by Haruki Murakami had its title translated to The Age of Loss because most readers would not have heard of the Beatles' song of the same name (after which the novel was named), as said song was once banned in South Korea for "indecent" lyrics.

Internet censorship[]

Korea Communications Standards Commission - Internet Warning - 2021

Warning displayed when attempting to access blocked websites.

  • Sites sympathetic to North Korea are blocked in South Korea.
  • Since 2008, they started to block other sites such as unrated games, pornography, casino gambling, selling illegal items, etc. If you try to access these sites with a South Korean ISP, it automatically redirects to a page in http://www.warning.or.kr/.
  • As pornography is illegal in South Korea, most Imageboorus are considered hentai and, therefore, are banned.

Movie censorship[]

General[]

Movies might be censored for genitalia, depending on the visibility and length of the shot. A quick glimpse in a dark scene is expected, but if it is a more prolonged shot or the genitals are clearly visible, it is expected to be blurred out. Otherwise, movies seem to follow any other country's guidelines. Bootleg pornography and films are quite common for purchase, completely uncensored. Piracy laws are very relaxed. Some art house theatres get away with it as well.

The government once added Public Service Announcements to Korean VHS tapes to warn the viewers against the illegal videocassettes, which contain pornography (sexual and violent content). One of said promos even has selected brief clips of sexual and violent Japanese anime, which the Korean government bans for many reasons. Said promos, however, stopped in the late 1990s.

Ratings[]

In South Korea, films are rated by the Korea Media Rating Board (Korean: 영상물등급위원회; Yeongsangmul Deunggeup Wiwonhoe; KMRB), a public organization that classifies films, videos and other motion pictures into age-based ratings and recommends domestic performances of foreign artists. Through these rating systems, the KMRB provides domestic viewers with accurate information for their viewing and protects children from harmful and unsuitable materials. The KMRB was established in 1966 as the "Korean Art and Culture Ethics Committee", the organization changed its name to the "Korean Ethics Committee for Performing Arts" in 1976 and the "Korean Council Performing Arts Promotion" in 1997. In June 1999, it finally changed to the current name of "Korea Media Rating Board".

Its ratings are determined on films and videos which are classified, stage performances and advertising. Stage performances have been rated "ALL", "Teenager restricted" or not rated. Advertisements have generally been rated "ALL" or not rated. The media subject to rating includes:

  • Nationally produced movies
  • Foreign movies
  • Advertisements on:
    • previews
    • posters
    • newspapers
    • notice boards

The KMRB in Busan divides licensed films into the following ratings:

Rating Name Description
KMRB All.svg ALL (전체관람가, Jeonche Gwanramga) Film suitable for all ages.
KMRB 12.svg 12 (12세이상관람가, Sip-se Isang Gwanramga) Film intended for audiences 12 and over. Underage audiences accompanied by a parent or guardian are allowed.
KMRB 15.svg 15 (15세이상관람가, Sip-o Isang Gwanramga) Film intended for audiences 15 and over. Underage audiences accompanied by a parent or guardian are allowed.
KMRB 18.svg 18 (청소년관람불가, Cheongsonyeon Gwanrambulga) No one under 18 is allowed to watch this film.
KMRB RS.svg Restricted screening (제한상영가, Jehan Samyeonga) Film needs a certain restriction in screening or advertisement as it is considered a highly bad influence to universal human dignity, social value, good customs or national emotion due to excessive expression of nudity, violence, social behavior, etc.

Instances of movie censorship[]

  • Last Tango in Paris was banned during its initial release due to its strong sexual content.
  • Obaltan was banned because it was misinterpreted by South Korea's government as pro-North due to the PTSD-suffering grandmother constantly screaming, "LET'S GET OUT OF HERE!!" as she experiences traumatizing flashbacks of the war. She never technically said where they should go, didn't even mention possible defection to North Korea, but still the movie got banned. At the time of its release, South Korea was not a thriving First World nation.
  • Ban Geum-ryeong (The Story of Pan Jinlian) was banned for six years (1975-1981), was released in South Korea in 1982 with 40 minutes cut.
  • Apocalypse Now! was banned in 1979 under President Park Chung-Hee due to its anti-war theme, but the ban was lifted sometime before 1990.
  • Braindead was banned for gory violence.
  • Falling Down was not distributed due to its negative portrayal of Koreans (and to add insult to injury, its premiere in the United States was one year after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, where Koreans were targeted). In 1997, it was passed uncut with an 18 rating.
  • Tokyo Decadence - this film was banned banned due its the cruel and graphic nature[1].
  • The Interview was banned from South Korean media markets as deemed to glamorize the death of Kim Jong-un. Despite their intensive military buildups for that very reason, the South Korean government would much rather avoid a war with North Korea, and found the movie to be in bad taste.
  • The Battle at Lake Changjin - this Chinese film about the Korean War was banned in South Korea for distorting the South Korean history. Said film was dismissed as "propaganda filled with historical inaccuracies" in South Korea.
  • The Battle at Lake Changjin II - the sequel to the above mentioned film was banned for disseminating historical inaccuracies on South Korean history.

Television censorship[]

General[]

  • Depictions of weapons such as knives are always censored on broadcasts. While large swords in ancient dramas aren’t blurred, small knives that are intended to be used as weapons in certain scenes are blurred out. The Korea Communications Standards Commission has issued a censor for anything that might cause excessive shock, anxiety or disgust to viewers.
  • Since the mid-1990s, any scene of a character smoking tobacco has the item (a cigarette, a pipe or a cigar) blurred out when said character brings it up to the lips (the item would be otherwise intact), as they aren't seen as “family friendly” enough to show on broadcast. An example can be seen in an MBC documentary about the South Korean team in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, where the match footage showing the South Korean coach Lee Hoi-Taek smoking a cigarette in the substitute bench was censored, as seen on the minute 5:31 of the video.
  • South Korean cable television is more lenient, much like the American one, but genitals and sometimes, even buttocks are still blurred out (but naked breasts and softcore sex is still uncensored). Many cable networks also censor any damage done to the head or showing closeups of cuts being made, but not cuts that are already open. For example, when Dexter is broadcast on cable TV, the cheek cutting scenes are edited once the scalpel touches the cheek, but the open cut itself is left intact once the scalpel is remove. There were calls from lobby groups to have daytime television censored for allowing scenes of divorce and adultery, but no action has been made.
  • TV stations will often times either pixelate tattooed areas of celebrities or ask them to wear tape to cover up their tattoos, for instance when hip-hop artist Jay Park apparitions (he had either to cover them up or had the stations pixel them). Any tattoos seen on characters seen on TV shows are usually blurred out.
  • Strangely enough, despite the South Korean censors' strict censorship against smoking, alcohol commercials are are freely displayed and feature popular young actors and pop stars. Said commercials range from beer to traditional spirits such as soju.
  • Due to ongoing tensions between Japan and South Korea, Japanese media was banned in South Korea for many years under the Law For Punishing Anti-National Deeds (Korean: 반민족행위처벌법 Banminjoghaeng-wicheobeolbeob), though in the 1990s and 2000s its laws were relaxed. In order to get a Korean release, a Japanese work had to remove any references to Japanese culture, and translate Japanese to Korean as much as possible, whether through cultural translation, a name change, or a veiled country change.
    • An exception to this was the second anime series of Chibi Maruko-chan were once localized in the short-lived Tooniverse Korean dub, but this stopped when the current Animax / Anibox dub aired.

Instances of television censorship[]

  • Any show having Japanese elements is immediately not allowed for airing in the country due to strained Japan-Korea relations. In fact, Power Rangers Ninja Storm (an American-made show) and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger never got aired in dubbed form at all — the latter only got any air time when the dubs of Kamen Rider Decade and Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger showed them. It was later found out that for the former, it's because Power Rangers licensing is now expensive for the US franchise to keep airing in the country, switching to Super Sentai dubs (Albeit keeping the Power Rangers name). The only Sentai show skipped in the country so far, despite it being not Japanese enough to warrant a ban, is Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger VS Keisatsu Sentai Patranger, but for a different reason.
  • Doctor Who - the episode "Deep Breath" had a lesbian "kiss" cut when it aired in South Korea. However, the hot air baloon made of human skin in the said episode did not was cut.
  • The first two episodes of Eto Rangers were not aired due to having a parody of Momotaro, a Japanese folk tale, leaving a considerable plot gap.
  • Family Guy (1999-) was rated 19+ on Tooniverse, but was removed in 2010 when the channel was retargeted towards younger viewers. It is still viewable through Netflix, but without Korean subtitles.[2]
  • Flint the Time Detective had almost any episode that took place in ancient Japan in its Korean dub, which caused plotholes regarding a few important characters that appeared later in the series.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers planned broadcast was cancelled due to previous depictions of the character "Korea" being deemed unflattering to Koreans. However, the character did not appear in the anime adaptation.
  • Pokémon: Some episodes were banned from airing in South Korea, causing some continuity errors in the anime's run. Generally the banned episodes contained overt references to Japanese culture; however, the last banned episodes occurred during Pokémon the Series: Ruby and Sapphire. Furthermore, episodes EP260 to EP274 were simply never aired, for unknown reasons.
    • "Challenge of the Samurai" was banned due to the episode featuring a samurai, creating a continuity error, as this episode features the evolution of Ash's Metapod.
    • "The Ghost of Maiden's Peak" has been banned due to the episode featuring several Japanese cultural events.
    • "Pokémon Scent-sation!" was banned likely due to Erika's traditional Japanese clothing worn in the perfume shop, creating another continuity error, as Ash obtains the Rainbow Badge in this episode.
    • "The Ninja Poké-Showdown" was banned due to featuring several depictions of Japanese culture, namely ninja and kabuki, resulting into another continuity error, as during this episode, Ash wins the Soul Badge.
    • "Riddle Me This" was likely banned due to depiction of traditional Japanese clothing and architecture, spawning another continuity error, as the very next episode continues from where this one left off.
    • "Bad to the Bone" was likely banned due to Otoshi's samurai-like attire.
    • "The Fourth Round Rumble" was likely banned due to Jeanette Fisher's traditional Japanese outfit. Said ban induced a continuity error, as in this episode Ash wins his fourth Pokémon League match.
    • "A Bout With Sprout" was banned due to the Sprout Tower resembling traditional Japanese architecture.
    • "Fighting Flyer with Fire" was banned due to the traditional Japanese style of Falkner's attire. This creates a continuity error, as Ash wins the Zephyr Badge in this episode.
    • "Wired for Battle!" and "Ariados, Amigos" were likely banned due to their overt focus on Japanese culture.
    • "A Ghost of a Chance" and "From Ghost to Ghost" were banned likely due to Ecutreak City resembling the real-world Kyoto (with women wearing kimono), the ban of the latter episode caused a continuity error, as Ash wins the Fog Badge in said episode.
    • "Trouble's Brewing" and "Espeon, Not Included" were likely banned due to the prominence of the Kimono Sisters, whose outfits are based on the Japanese culture.
    • "Ring Masters" was banned likely due to having Pokémon sumo wrestle (which is a Japanese style of fighting). This created a continuity error in which Ash wins the King's Rock, which would later picked up by Misty's Poliwhril to evolve into a Politoed in "Outrageous Fortunes".
    • "Doin' What Comes Natu-rally" was banned due to the fortune-telling show resembling a Shinto tradition.
    • "Poetry Commotion!" and "Going, Going, Yawn! never aired in Korea, although this may have been an oversight, as they were released on DVD. On the other hand, they do not appear on the official 포켓몬스터 AG (Pokémon AG) episode page. This also creates a plot hole, since in the latter episode, Ash wins the Heat Badge.
  • Sailor Moon: Over 40 episodes were banned from broadcast, while all scenes involving the Hikawa Shrine (the shrine that Rei lives in with her grandfather) were excised, along with any scenes depicting Rei in her miko robes or that involved kanji. These changes were in part due to the unpleasant history between Japan and Korea.
  • The Simpsons episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" was banned due to containing a huge amount of Japanese elements usually forbidden from airing in terrestrial television in South Korea; however, surprisingly, the ban was lifted before 2007, unlike Japan's own ban on this episode. It is also available for Disney+ in South Korea, complete with Korean subtitles.
  • Doraemon - the epsiode 100 "Elephant and Uncle" (ぞうとおじさん), was not aired in South Korea due to the plot involving Doraemon and Nobita going into a zoo Imperial Japan and the presence of Imperial Japanese Army soldiers.
  • South Park had started to air on Tooniverse in March of 2000, but it barely got into its first season before the Republic of Korea Broadcasting Committee ordered it banned, due to numerous complaints about its content. However, the ban was lifted in 2019, when the show became available on Netflix.
  • South Korea had a ban on Super Robot anime as a reaction to the Japanese occupation in Korea (Imperial Japan branded Korea as a colony and even tried to abolish Korean culture). South Korea also had a ban on Magical Girl anime (with one of the exceptions in the 1990s being Sailor Moon and Wedding Peach). The ban was lifted in 1998, lifting the ban on Japanese cultural products in stages, which had started a year before.

TV show censorship[]

  • M*A*S*H (TV series) was banned as it depicted South Koreans as living in poverty, even though during the show's setting, the Korean War, South Korea had a gross domestic product lower than Ghana's.
  • Mr. Queen - this period drama based on the Chinese webseries Go, Princess, Go was lambasted before its debut due to Xian Chen, the author of the novel on which the drama was based, has made negative remarks about Korea in their other work. The producers released a statement clarifying their stance and apologising for the controversies, adding that they were not aware of the negative comments made by the novelist. After Mr. Queen's debut, the series was harshly criticised again as it was accused of irresponsibly "distorting" and "mocking" Korean history[3]. Among the controversial scenes were: one in which the queen was accused of sexualising the records of the royal family's relations. In other, the drama included a mocking commentary on the royal ancestral rituals in the Jongmyo shrine, designated as an UNESCO Humanity Heritage site, and in another, a courtesan house was satirically named mocking the infamous real-life Burning Sun scandal, which involved various important people in the entertainment industry of South Korea. After the second episode aired, the series was criticised again as it represented Queen Shinjeong, the wife of the heir prince Hyomyeong, as a superstition-obsessed woman, which made the society made up by descents of the queen Shinjeong raised their voices demonstrating their concern and stating that "historical figures should not made fun of"[4]. Moreover, the series also drew controversy in episode 2, as it referred to Korea's national treasure, the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty as a "tabloid", resulting in the indignation among the viewers and about 700 people who filed complaints to the Korea Communications Standards Commission[5][6]. Due to this, on 15 December 2020, the production crew emitted a press communicate expressing that they "bought the television rights for the remake of the webdrama Go Princess Go, which aired in China by the drama's productor company and not of the original novel on which the former was based. On the other hand, at the moment of the contract, we did not know about the negative comments that the author has made on his work Princess Amity about Korea. Despite this, we sincerely apologise to the viewers for not notice this in advance and we accept seriously that the lines said about the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty were inapproriate, as such we have eliminated said scene. Regarding other historical figures and incidents, we did not have intention of portraying them negatively. We once more express our apologies for causing unease and we will be more careful in the production of the drama"[7]. Eventually, on 26 March 2021, the producing company CJ ENM announced its decision to remove every instance of the drama in the video on demand (VOD) platforms and services, as well as the clips of the series which were on YouTube, Naver and others[8]. On the other hand, the lead actress Shin Hye-sun faced harsh backlash, resulting in many of the corporate contracts with her being withdrawn[9][10].
  • Joseon Exorcist - this period drama, after the airing of its first two episodes, had its content criticised by many viewers for historical inaccuracies. Korean and Chinese viewers were angered over the usage of Chinese-style props for a show set during the Joseon dynasty. A scene in the first episode depitcting King Taejong slaughtering innocent villagers after having a hallucination of his deceased father, King Taejo, for which there was no historical basis. And Prince Chungnyung (Sejong the Great) being treated like a servant by an interpreter (with father John) from China. The Jeonju Lee Royal Family Association, made up of descendeants of Joseon's royal family, criticised the series for its depiction of King Taejong, Prince Yangnyeong and Prince Chungnyeong, and called for immediate cancellation of the show. Over 216.000 people also petitioned the Blue House (the residence of the President of South Korea) to cancel the show. More than 3.900 complaints were sent to the Korea Communications Standards Commission concerning the television show. On 24 March 2021, the production company and the broadcaster SBS apologised for the historical inaccuracies and promised that they would take a break for one week to change the content. Due to the public backlash, corporate sponsors such as Samsung Electronics and LG Household & Health Care, pulled their ads and cut their ties with the show. Local governments also withdrew their support for the production. On 26 March 2021, the SBS announced that the show was cencelled after the first two episodes due to the intense public backlash and the withdrawal of support from corporate sponsors and local governments.

Video game censorship[]

Video games in South Korea are rated by the Game Rating and Administration Committee (Korean:게임물관리위원회; RR: Geimmul Gwalli-Wiwonhoe; GRAC) (formerly known as the Game Rating Board (Korean: 게임물등급위원회; RR: Geimmul Deung-Geub-Wiwonhoe) until December 23, 2013), a governmental organization established in 2006 which rates video games to inform customers of the nature of game contents. Until 2006, the Korea Media Rating Board rated video games just like other entertainment media. However, the GRB was formed after a controversy when the Korea Media Rating Board rated an arcade gambling game Sea Story as if it was suitable for everyone, with allegations of gambling.

Instances of video game censorship[]

Since 2006, South Korea has only banned video games on rare occasions. Even before this, games were very rarely banned unless that game mentioned elements of the Korean War in order to avoid tensions between the countries North Korea and South Korea. However, Manhunt, Manhunt 2, and Mortal Kombat are still banned because of violence and cruelty. Grand Theft Auto 3, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction were previously banned, but the bans were later lifted.

The Game Rating and Administration Committee requires that all video games be rated by the organization. Unrated titles are absolutely banned from being sold in the country, and websites selling them can be blocked.

  • Homefront was banned as it depicts a unified Korea under rule of the DPRK.
  • Mortal Kombat (2011) was banned in South Korea for extreme violence, including graphic violence in various Fatalities. Later Mortal Kombat console games were also banned.
  • Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory were banned in South Korea all for depicting a war between North and South Korea. Later, the ban on the Ghost Recon series had been lifted to promote freedom of speech.

Until the 2000s, import video games from Japan had to have all Japanese voice acting and Japanese song vocals removed, as well as depictions of samurai. As a result, Mitsurugi from the SoulCalibur series had to be replaced by Arthur.

  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony was banned most likely due to featuring murders by high schoolers after a case of a 17-year old girl killing and dismembering an 8-year old girl in that country. Because the criminal was revealed to have been a regular participant of roleplaying communities (and Danganronpa was pretty big in the South Korean roleplaying scene), she was thought to have copied the game. In truth, she had never participated in roleplaying Danganronpa specifically, but a spokesperson of the South Korean ratings board committee has stated that V3 will remain banned because "[They have] determined that the game had crossed the line where it was difficult to allow this in society".
  • Luck Be a Landlord was banned in South Korea from Google Store for violating the gambling policies[11]. The game would be unbanned on 22 January 2024[12].

Other censorship[]

For many years, South Korea had a ban on most cultural products from Japan[13]. This began to be lifted in the late 1990s, although enforcement had been relatively lax since about ten years prior. Due to the fact that anime was popular in South Korea but couldn't legally be distributed, a number of enterprising South Korean animation houses created a large number of pretty much rip-off versions of Japanese anime (reusing the animation cells from their outsourced animation). Among these was the infamous Space Gundam V which despite its name, it actually was a rip-off of Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Relations between Japan and South Korea remain strained to this day, with many Koreans continuing to call for boycotts of Japanese-made products.

References[]

External links[]

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