Public interest paparazzi serve a purpose – for pay – in South Korea

Learning in-car technique at a ssu-parazzi school

With his debts mounting and his wages barely enough to cover the interest, Im Hyun-seok decided he needed a new job. The mild-mannered former English tutor joined South Korea’s growing ranks of camera-toting bounty hunters.

Known here sarcastically as paparazzi, people like Mr. Im stalk their prey and capture them on film. But it is not celebrities, politicians or even hardened criminals they pursue. Rather, they roam cities secretly videotaping fellow citizens breaking the law, deliver the evidence to government officials and collect the rewards.

“Some people hate us,” Mr. Im said. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”

The opportunities are everywhere: a factory releasing industrial waste into a river, a building owner keeping an emergency exit locked, doctors and lawyers not providing receipts for payment so that they can underreport their taxable income.

Mr. Im’s pet target is people who burn garbage at construction sites, a violation of environmental laws.

“I’m making three times what I made as an English tutor,” said Mr. Im, 39, who began his new line of work around seven years ago and says he makes about $85,000 a year… Wow!

Snitching for pay has become especially popular since the world’s economic troubles slowed South Korea’s powerful economy. Paparazzi say most of their ranks are people who have lost their jobs in the downturn and are drawn by news reports of fellow Koreans making tens of thousands of dollars a year reporting crimes.

There are no reliable numbers of people who have taken up the work since governments at all levels have their own programs, but the phenomenon is large enough that it has spawned a new industry: schools set up to train aspiring paparazzi…

The outsourcing of law enforcement has also been something of a boon for local governments. They say that they can save money on hiring officers, and that the fines imposed on offenders generally outstrip the rewards paid to informers…

For most infractions, rewards can range from as little as about $5 (reporting a cigarette tosser) to as much as $850 (turning in an unlicensed seller of livestock). But there are possibilities for windfalls. Seoul’s city government promises up to $1.7 million for reports of major corruption involving its own staff members…

Not a new idea; but, certainly the most extensive implementation of civilian policing I can recall. Being a bounty hunter – without a gun and the crap ideology it’s wrapped in here in the USofA – is an old and usually honorable profession. Only the crooks and corrupt are serious about their complaints. And honest civilians who criticise the craft – should take a look at the standards they’re using to judge their fellow citizens who own both a conscience and a camera.

One thought on “Public interest paparazzi serve a purpose – for pay – in South Korea

  1. E Trams says:

    Great idea which could be implemented in the United States. A couple of problems though:
    1. only rich people get justice in the US
    2. Attorney Generals, US Attorneys, and District Attorneys do not prosecute people or businesses who can influence their political careers.
    3. the Nation is too busy filling up prisons with poor people
    4. US Whistleblowers risk their lives and are rarely if ever heard by anyone that cares or acts or defends them after they expose crime
    5. illegal isn’t illegal when it comes to some crimes

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