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Viewer’s voice shakes Korean broadcaster

Online debate grows over criticisms aimed at JTBC’s ‘Snowdrop’

JTBC’s “Snowdrop” has sparked the criticism that it distorted the history of South Korea’s pro-democracy movement, as the female lead character Eun Young-ro (Jisoo) saves the life of a North Korean spy Soo-ho (Jung Hae-in) after mistaking him as an activist in the pro-democracy movement. (JTBC)
JTBC’s “Snowdrop” has sparked the criticism that it distorted the history of South Korea’s pro-democracy movement, as the female lead character Eun Young-ro (Jisoo) saves the life of a North Korean spy Soo-ho (Jung Hae-in) after mistaking him as an activist in the pro-democracy movement. (JTBC)
Controversy over “Snowdrop” continued this week, with viewers calling for the drama to be pulled, while some insiders claimed that such calls limited producers’ freedom to apply creative license.

“Snowdrop,” a highly anticipated JTBC series, also available on Disney+, features Blackpink’s Jisoo and top actor Jung Hae-in. But the star-studded production drew calls for its cancellation from members of the public, who accuse the show of distorting the history about South Korea’s pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s.

Dissatisfied viewers went as far as to request an injunction against the streaming of the show, which was refused by a Seoul court Wednesday.

The female lead character saves the life of a North Korean spy after mistaking him as an activist in the pro-democracy movement in “Snowdrop.”

Historically, many activists were tortured and died after being falsely accused of being North Korean spies.

Critics of the show say it defames the democracy movement of the 1980s and fails to reflect the brutality of the authorities at the time.

The production team tried to soothe the public anger by offering a public statement, explaining everything in the series was fictional, except for its historical setting.

Director Jo Hyun-tak sought to quell the criticism in an online press conference early December, saying that “Snowdrop” is a story of individuals and is not about ideology.

But the criticism did not cease. An online petition was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website on Dec. 19, demanding a halt to the airing of the drama. The petition gathered more than 230,000 signatures within 24 hours, meeting the threshold to officially require Cheong Wa Dae to respond to the issue within 30 days. As of Wednesday, more than 355,000 people had signed the petition.

The netizens also shared the list of corporate sponsors online, pressuring them to withdraw support for the drama.

Yoo In-na, another actor starring in “Snowdrop,” is being pressured to step down from narrating the KBS’ history documentary “UHD History Special.”

The calls for her to quit come from viewers who believe that she is no longer an appropriate choice for a history program, as she is starring in a drama with historical distortion.
A screenshot from the official website of “UHD History Special” shows viewers discussing whether the choice of Yoo In-na to narrate for the program is appropriate. (KBS)
A screenshot from the official website of “UHD History Special” shows viewers discussing whether the choice of Yoo In-na to narrate for the program is appropriate. (KBS)
Though the first episode with Yoo’s narration was aired Tuesday, a debate is still raging over the issue on the program’s official website.

“Snowdrop” is not the first drama to come under pressure for its depiction of history. SBS drama “Joseon Exorcist” was canceled after just two episodes over perceived historical inaccuracies and distortions.

Meanwhile, some believe that viewers’ actions can hamper content creators’ freedom. In the face of controversy over “Snowdrop,” which came months after the cancellation of “Joseon Exorcist” in March, producers and directors are being extra careful with their projects, double-checking that upcoming series or programs do not have any elements that could irritate the public.

“Viewers’ monitoring and criticisms are always welcome. Nobody will disagree that those are the key factors in developing the level of creative content. The previous case with ‘Joseon Exorcist’ might have provided an excellent example in showing how the collective action from the public can shut down a drama series,” said an industry insider who wished to remain anonymous.

“If the criticisms turn into abuse targeting specific individuals or groups, and try to produce the content far different from the original purpose, they are nothing more than another form of censorship. If the freedom of expression is protected by the law, I think people also need to protect the freedom of the content creator.”

Chin Jung-kwon, a critic-turned-professor, also hoped the viewers to watch “Snowdrop” as a drama.

“Freedom of expression is one of the foundations in a democratic society. Why do some people think they have right to violate other viewers’ rights?” Chin said in an online post on Dec. 21.

With an attempt to persuade the drama fans by fast-forwarding the storylines, local broadcaster JTBC scheduled its Saturday-Sunday drama “Snowdrop” to air three episodes last weekend.

Though the last week’s special broadcast schedule soothed public anger somewhat, “Snowdrop” looks unlikely to win viewers’ hearts any time soon. The latest episode recorded an average viewership share of 2.7 percent, according to data from Nielsen Korea.

But it was the sixth most watched show on Korean Disney+ on Wednesday, and “Snowdrop” made a successful debut as the service’s first Korean drama in other Asian countries -- Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- soaring to No. 2 on the service’s official weekly chart, according to US-based streaming analytics firm FlixPatrol.

The Saturday-Sunday drama “Snowdrop” airs at 10:30 p.m. on JTBC and is available on the streaming platform Disney+.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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