Koreaboo, Kim Hyun-joong’s ex and how bad translation seriously misleads K-pop fans
As part of their ongoing legal battle, Kim Hyun-joong’s ex-girlfriend is set to stand trial in March accused of manipulating evidence and defaming Kim Hyun-joong. Yesterday, before she was actually charged, Korean news outlet OSEN published an “exclusive” leaked report detailing the prosecutor’s evidence and what she was due to be charged with. There could be arguments over whether it is responsible to report on this kind of information before the charges have actually been made but what was definitely irresponsible was the way Koreaboo misleadingly and inaccurately translated the report.
Firstly, for full context, here’s a version of one of the two reports linked to by Koreaboo which I have translated:
It has been reported prosecutors have secured evidence that actor Kim Hyun-joong’s ex girlfriend Ms. A manipulated evidence and lied about being pregnant.
According to OSEN on the 18th, during the criminal investigation process, prosecutors have been found to have secured evidence appearing to show Ms. A’s claims of a miscarriage resulting from an assault in May and an abortion are all false.
The prosecutor decided, after manipulating evidence by removing part of the content relating to a pregnancy test and miscarriage in Kakaotalk conversations about her self-reported pregnancy, assault and miscarriage, Ms. A lodged a civil suit seeking 16 hundred million won in damages against Kim Hyun-joong but Kim Hyun-joong counter-sued accusing her of attempted fraud in court.
Since then after turning the situation unfavourably against herself, prosecutors judged her to have committed libel against Kim Hyun-joong with a false interview saying she had had a miscarriage after Kim Hyun-joong’s assault.
It reported that Ms. A was never pregnant during the time she claimed to have been forced to have an abortion.
The Ministry of Justice ruled in the first trial last September that “Ms. A should pay Kim Hyun-joong 100 million won” but Ms. A is currently appealing the decision.
Meanwhile Kim Hyun-joong will leaved the army and return to society on this coming February 11th.
What is being referred to in this article is not a crime that Ms. A has been found guilty of but evidence the prosecutor will be presenting to the court relating to crimes she was subsequently charged with. Crucially, this means these are all still just allegations and nothing has yet been proven or disproven in a court of law. Therefore if I were to write “Kim Hyun-joong’s ex-girlfriend manipulated evidence”, that would be potentially defamatory because that hasn’t been ruled on by a court yet. I would need to say “Kim Hyun-joong’s ex-girlfriend is alleged to have manipulated evidence” or “Prosecutors are said to have evidence showing Kim Hyun-joong’s ex-girlfriend manipulated evidence”.
Shortly after OSEN’s “exclusive” leak, Ms. A was officially charged. Here’s a short extract from a Chosun Ilbo article to show what a responsible report on that looks like.
Ex-Girlfriend Charged in Bitter Feud with Kim Hyun-joong
Prosecutors have charged the ex-girlfriend of singer-actor Kim Hyun-joong with attempted fraud and defamation.
The woman, surnamed Choi, is accused of fabricating text messages she exchanged with the actor and claiming that she had a miscarriage after he assaulted her.
Let’s compare this with Koreaboo’s article, shall we?
Firstly the headline:
[★BREAKING] Court Discovers Kim Hyun Joong’s Ex-Girlfriend Was Never Pregnant
If you didn’t already understand why this is plain wrong, I hope the rest of this article has made it clear. No evidence has yet to even been presented at court in this case so the court has not done anything . On top of that, it’s not the court’s place to “discover”, that’s the role of the prosecutor. Not only is this inaccurate, it gives the unfortunate impression that she was found guilty in court of submitting false evidence which, given that it is yet to be proven if that is true or not, is potentially defamatory.
Fraud is a serious crime. It’s easy in this kind of he-said-she-said case to lose track of how serious the allegations are but imagine if this was an attempted murder case instead where Ms. X was accused of stabbing Mr. Y. How would a headline of “Court Discovers Ms. X stabbed Mr. Y” or even “Court Discovers Ms. X owned knife used to stab Mr. Y” look? It reads like Ms. X has been found to be an attempted murderer before she’s even stood trial. What if the court ends up finding the evidence not compelling enough and clears her of the charges?
Now, let’s go into the article itself.
Kim Hyun Joong‘s ex-girlfriend accusations have been found to be completely false according to the Korean Prosecutor in new findings released today.
On January 18th, South Korean media outlet OSEN revealed exclusive details that shared more insight into Kim Hyun Joong’s ongoing court case against his ex-girlfriend.
The courts have revealed that multiple statements released by Kim Hyun Joong’s ex-girlfriend, “Miss Choi” have been proven to be false.
The middle paragraph here is the only one that isn’t potentially misleading. Just as the court does not generally discover things, the prosecutor doesn’t find things “to be completely false” – it’s usually the other way round.
But it’s the third paragraph that really highlights how little whoever translated this article understands about journalistic practices and the legal system. This article is based on a report by OSEN which in turn is based on information leaked to them by some kind of inside source. They are deliberately obscuring who released this information, presumably, to protect their source. (This is sometimes done for questionable reasons but it’s an extremely important journalistic freedom – just look to Watergate for the cliched example used in every introductory journalism class on the planet.)
In practice, this means the original report is written in a vague passive tense which is deliberately unclear about where this information is coming from. Most of the sentences say things like “It has been made known that…” or “It has been revealed that…”. Because the journalistic conventions are different to English it’s hard to translate in a way that doesn’t sound clunky and awkward, but that doesn’t mean that you can do what Koreaboo has done and attribute the information to “The courts”. There is nothing in the original article to indicate the courts were involved in releasing this information and it encourages the reader to give it more weight than the original Korean article does.
The final paragraph in this article makes the same mistake saying “according to the OSEN exclusive report, the following facts have been completely fabricated and are without truth” and then lists the prosecutor’s charges.
The point here is not to prove that Kim Hyun-joong’s girlfriend or Kim Hyun-joong himself are guilty or not guilty of anything, that’s the court’s decision, it’s to show how misleading bad translations of Korean news reports can be.
To their credit, Soompi and even allkpop (yes, that allkpop) have managed to report this matter responsibly but Koreaboo needs to seriously look at how they translate and present information relating to serious court cases. Slight mistranslations of what someone said in an interview with a fashion magazine or an instagram post can be annoying and misleading but publishing inaccurate reports relating to serious crimes like fraud and domestic violence has consequences. It can make a potentially innocent (note potentially – it hasn’t been decided) person look guilty and seriously muddies the waters on important issues.
A lot of K-pop fans are young and understandably don’t have a full understanding of how the legal system works (hell, a lot of adults don’t either – especially the legal system of another country) and this particular case touches on a issues that will affect a significant number of them in some way in their lives. If Koreaboo wants to get a 15-year-old intern to translate idols’ social media posts about what they had for lunch today, that’s one thing, but if they are going to report on real news about serious and sensitive crime cases, they need to do so with the responsibility of a real news organisation.
Or one day, they might find themselves in trouble.