South Korea’s netizens have taken to Twitter and the blogosphere to protest what they believe was a deliberate misinterpretation of Time Asia’s coverage by presidential candidate Park Geun-hye and her conservative Saenuri Party. In focus: the meaning of the English word “strongman” to describe Park Geun-hye’s father, Park Chung-hee, and the decision of her the Party’s PR team to translate that term to mean “powerful leader” rather than “dictator.”
Time Magazine has now made their meaning clear by publishing the text on its online edition under a new headline: “The Dictator’s Daughter” (Times’ subscribers only).” Oops, Party PR guys, ya’ busted!
As the Washington Post reported last week, this is not the first time that the Party has sought to control the words used to represent Park Chung-hee’s troubled legacy:
Park Geun-hye’s aides say they are sensitive about her connection to her father. They sent a memo to media earlier this year asking that articles not refer to Park Chung-hee as a “dictator.” On the campaign trail, Park has also apologized for some of her father’s actions, including his coup and crackdowns on students.
Park Geun-hye (60; pictured at left with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in 2007) could become South Korea’s first female president in Wednesday’s election. As The Economist reports, just 50 percent of the nation’s women are in the workforce and just around 10% its politicians are. Her win within this context would be no small feat.
Nevertheless, this is a serious gaff. Translation is not neutral and, as history has long proven, the use of one term versus another can either soften or inflame political discourse. Yes, Park maintains a slim lead over her liberal opponent, Moon Jae-in, so the Saenuri Party’s interest in highlighting positive coverage is clear. But you don’t do that with bad translation, guys, and this kind of heavy-handedness — which reminded some of the censorship days of the assasinated Park Chung-hee — is surely not the route of modern South Korea, especially in the social media age.
For more on that, see koreaBANG’s write-up on the parodies of the print cover and LinkTV’s video coverage of the controversy, inserted below: