While watching TV or skimming through Internet news, you might have witnessed criminals’ faces being blurred out by mosaics with only a minimal amount of information provided to the public. And thus, you might have questioned why in the world do those criminals hide their bodies so meticulously inside the protective coat of mosaics, when their crimes deserve harshness? Come to think of it, for those who have already jeopardized the rights of innocent victims, is it acceptable in any sense that their own rights are being protected? But it seems there is a reason for such mosaics as well, not completely arbitrary, so it would be bit of a hasty decision to approach this issue only emotionally. At the same time, as it must be clear if any wrongs are there to be discussed, it will be a necessity to examine the controversy around mosaics.
Mosaics: What for?
Mosaics originally refer to a picture or craft item manufactured by assembling several different ingredients such as stained glass, wood, or tiles of various colors. However, mosaics now hold a wider range of meaning, as it is often used to refer to a certain kind of visual censoring technology inside the media. Commonly, socially sensational or brutal scenes or scenes that include personal information are often blurred out. Besides these, it differs from country to country which objects should not be broadcasted on screen. Korea especially regulates scenes that show smoking or tattoos. And for the issue of today, whether criminals deserve mosaics or not, Korea’s answer would be a yes.
Comparison between the Mosaics of Korea and Foreign Countries
As mentioned before, there clearly are differences among countries on the decision of who becomes blurred out in the media. But first, one thing to keep in mind is that criminals or prime suspects of a case are almost always exposed to the media, at least abroad. Just a glimpse at neighboring China, and you will discover how strict the country is on criminals’ information disclosure. China has basically made it a rule to expose the details to the public, and only when there are private requests will the press blur out parts of the criminal’s face (usually noses). According to one interesting episode, when the kidnapper gang of a young child was arrested in China, they requested to have their faces blurred out in the photos that would be posted the next day in the media. As a response, the police literally wrote the word “mosaic” onto the top of their heads and sent it directly to the press. This shows how strict China is on its own mosaic standards.
Besides, an unusual case would be that of the United States, where the police’s face is covered by mosaics. Although the fundamental reason for such a decision is to protect the police officer’s identity from the frequent outbreak of vindictive crimes, it still shares a common ground with the aforementioned example of China in that they do not overly protect the criminal. The mosaics seem to target an appropriate person.
Then how about Korea? It seems that this country does have a real knack for protecting criminals’ privacy, often more than necessary. Let us first examine examples shown in the Internet news. In the year 2016, there was an embarrassing incident where a drunk passenger (Korean, male) went on a sudden rampage on a Korean Air 480 airliner. Coincidentally, Richard Marx (a famous singer song-writer of USA) was another passenger on the very same plane. After subduing the riot together with the stewards, he uploaded several photos showing the drunk passenger on his SNS. Strangely enough, Korean press that reported the very same news all blurred out the criminal’s face while withholding his name as well. It may not be certain if such actions were purely voluntary or habitual, but still demonstrates how heavily Korean media is obsessed with “criminal protection” even when they were only reporting on an issue that already had its details exposed to the public.
In fact, regardless of the seriousness of crime, it is very difficult to watch the Korean media providing sufficient information about the criminal without any mosaic treatments. Despite people’s earnest craving to “know”, it is usually protection that comes first when reporting any influential news as such mentioned above. Were the faces of the filthy perpetrators of the Incheon Elementary Student Murder revealed on TV or any Internet news? No, not until original copies of photos covered by the media started to spread through SNS. Already having their names made anonymous, criminals are repeatedly hidden behind a misty shield that seals everything except a minimal amount of information (response to reporters’ questions). It is difficult not to feel that the media’s protection is a bit excessive at this point.
Why the excessive mosaic even when they are in fact considered more than necessary? Of course, in such mosaics there seem to exist a certain appropriateness, at least, if that is what the media tells people. Basic rights, especially portrait rights, are applied to criminals considering they are also human beings. If the innocence of a criminal or a prime suspect is confirmed after their private information is already exposed to the public, it becomes another burden to a person who was not guilty in the first place. Just a glimpse of a moment exposed on TV, and the person’s private life will be flooded by unnecessary attention by the public. The problem is, even if such curiosity of the public (whether heavy or light) is expressed by just a click on the Internet, they often accumulate larger than endurable boundaries. Therefore, to prevent mistakes that turn potential criminals into victims who suffer from the unwanted aftermaths, mosaics are used in the name of criminal rights protection. Although this may not concur with the general point of view regarding crimes, still, mosaics exist for such a reason.
Why Korean Mosaics Are Making Such a Fuss
Goes Against Common Good
Usually when the issue is about “privacy,” the necessity and the legal capability to guarantee keeping personal information from leaking to the public are brought up. But this works completely when the subject is an ordinary person, not a public figure. Public figures nowadays have a certain amount of responsibility to the “public” controversies related to themselves, and thus the audience also holds rights to know. Especially, if an incident that evokes criticism in a social context involves a certain public figure, hiding even basic information as a part of privacy protection can instead be an invasion on the public’s rights to know.
There were times when Choi Sun-sil’s daughter Jeong Yu-ra, had her face blurred out on TV news against the public’s curiosity while on the flee in Germany. Although SBS first started to expose her face from November 28th of 2016, it is still questionable how reluctant other public TV stations’ attitudes were towards delivering even basic information about a person who was at the center of the dispute and corruption of the Choi Sun-sil Gate Scandal. Why were they so overly kind in such situation? It was clearly an insult to the public’s right and “want” to know, both important common goods, considering how sensational the matters were.
Lack of Consistency
What is more is that the mosaic standards are ambiguous. In other words, they lack any understandable consistency. In fact, not all criminals were blurred out entirely from the media. In some occasions, such as the Changwon Golf Course Kidnapping and the Ansan Homicide, the criminals’ faces were exceptionally revealed to the public. To such decision came much support as it seemed as if the media was finally doing something “right”. But the problem is, those examples were not more than just “random” occurrences considering how inconsistent the media has been in dealing with mosaics afterwards. Was the public able to know who the filthy murderers of an innocent elementary schoolchild were from the beginning? No. How about the daughter of a woman who once swayed and confused the whole country? Again, the answer is no. Such arbitrary decisions will not appeal positively to the public nor be able to avoid harsh criticism.
No matter what the purpose or meaning mosaics may hold, unless able to be understood by the public, they will not be free from controversy. The quickest and clearest solution would be to set up related laws to confirm the subject, reason, and fairness of mosaic usage. In fact, it is quite absurd not to have had a “consistent” rule deciding what is right and what is wrong in a sensitive issue like this. But again, we should beware of hasty decisions. In an issue where the right to know and personal rights collide, both should be weighed carefully before deciding which to prioritize. For instance, too much of an emotional approach will rather draw the discussion on such issues off-topic. A balanced, fair discussion is necessary at this point.
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