As the trial against Mnet‘s 2017 survival show Idol School draws to a close, the Seoul Central District Court prosecution demands that the show’s producers be imprisoned for manipulating voting results.
Shortly after the Produce 101 series came under investigation for vote fraud, the Soul Metropolitan Police Agency also began investigating the producers of Idol School. In July 2020, chief producer Kim Tae Eun was indicted on charges of fraud.
According to the investigation, Kim Tae Eun accepted ₩15.0 million KRW (about $13,500 USD) raised through Idol School voting messages among other charges relating to fraud and obstruction of business. Charges also allege that the former head of Mnet’s production division—known only by his last name, Kim—conspired with Kim Tae Eun to commit the crimes.
Given that the charges caused losses for both Idol School‘s contestants and its viewers, the Seoul Central District Court prosecution mandates that the charges must be taken seriously. As such, prosecutors are demanding jail time for both Kim Tae Eun and production head Kim. If convicted, Kim Tae Eun could face one year and six months in prison, while Kim may be sentenced to one year.
The charges against the defendants cannot be treated lightly as they have resulted in a sense of loss and deprivation to both the show’s participants and viewers.
— Seoul Central District Court prosecution
Both Kim Tae Eun and Kim have taken different stances in court. The chief producer has admitted to all charges, insisting that he did so to protect the company rather than to gain personally. During his November 2019 trial, Kim Tae Eun’s lawyer argued that his actions were not criminal, and that low viewership ratings meant contestants’ acquaintances would have skewed the votes if producers hadn’t stepped in. Asking the court for leniency, Kim Tae Eun has promised to reflect on his actions.
I committed a huge mistake. However, it was not for my personal gain, but to prevent losses for the company, so there was no bribery involved. I’m sorry to everyone who was hurt by this case. I will reflect [on my deeds] for the rest of my life.
— Idol School chief producer Kim Tae Eun
Production head Kim, on the other hand, has pleaded innocent and denied any knowledge of vote manipulation. While he admits to feeling a sense of burden as Kim Tae Eun’s supervisor at the time, he insists that he has not committed any crime.
As the supervisor at the time, I do regret that such a thing happened. And I feel a sense of burden to think that I could have prevented it if I had been a little more attentive. But, I do not believe that I acted beyond the law.
— Idol School former production head Kim
The final sentencing hearing for both parties will take place on Thusday, June 10, 2021. This trial centers only on charges of fraud and business obstruction, but many more allegations have been brought against the Idol School production team. Several contestants who competed on the show complained of mistreatment, including being forced to wear summer clothes through months of winter, being made to live in unsanitary conditions, and being malnourished to the point of losing their menstrual cycle.