5 Aspects of the Produce 101 Scandal

2019.11.29 페이스북 트위터
“When my father wanted to question the whole [vote-rigging] debacle I told him not to – that it wouldn’t make a difference,” said Idol School participant Lee Hae-in her appearance in the MBC PD Note episode, “CJ and Audition Scams.” As the show pointed out, CJ ENM used its massive corporate clout to monopolize the overall process of producing and nurturing stars involving idol-focused management to program casting by incorporating promotion and management companies through its Mnet audition programs. Vote tampering largely led by the production crew has since been confirmed for all of the seasons in Produce 101, Produce 101 2, Produce 48, and Produce X101. At this rate it would be an understatement to say CJ ENM specializes not in cultural content but fraud, malicious editing, and contestant exploitation. Here are some of Mnet’s past errors in using its cast as props to their broadcasting.

Evil editing – cheating contestants out of their dreams
“Standing before you today are young ladies here to achieve their dreams. Some have been training to sing and dance for months, others up to 10 years – not on the stage, but from the confines of small practice studios.” With these lines Jang Keun-suk opened Produce 101 in January of 2016 emphasizing the desperation behind the trainees’ aspirations. Heo Chan-mi was one of such trainees. It was speculated at the time she had been trained for 10 years and 4 months before returning to audition after her initial debut in a girl/boy group Coed School. But Produce 101 aired a scene of her voice cracking 3-5 times in a row. This was without a clear explanation as to the fact that she was not in a good condition as she was recovering from vocal cord injury. In addition to her mistake, an interview of her saying, “I’m always confident,” and “If not for the injury, I would have been made TA [not Yeonjung],” was aired, triggering criticism for an inflated sense of self-esteem compared to her actual capabilities. In response, a netizen identifying herself as Chan-mi’s older sister posted on Facebook in protest, “Most of the scenes of her saying hello were cut out, making her look rude,” “The scene where she was applauded by her whole group was cut out and replaced with the scene of her voice cracking during practice.”

Following the complaint, however, Chan-mi was given almost no screen time in episode 9 even though she was the lead vocal of her team, leading to a backlash against “revenge editing.” The repetitive voice cracking scenes appeared again in Produce 48 for a participant named Jang Gyu-ri. The lead producer at the time, Han Dong-cheul (a producer currently affiliated with YG Entertainment), was quoted as saying, “The better the quality of recording, the higher the likelihood of being aired.” But this was not the case when the mistakes and unflattering moments of participants were used as a tool for getting more attention, in effect making a fool out of the “young ladies here to achieve their dreams.”


Unfair contract in a tilted playing field
The Produce 101 contract was obtained and revealed exclusively by Ilgan Sports in February of 2016. According to the contract, the participants were to be paid 0 Won for appearing on the program, and the profits from the records produced and sold by Mnet to be distributed 50:50 between CJ ENM and the relevant production agency. The shares of the artists including session musicians participating in the contents production of the record were to be distributed by the production agency (Section 5). Even the record profits paid to the participants to make up for their nonexistent appearance fees were not shares allocated directly to them. Moreover, the contract included a clause stating, “The song production agency and trainee are precluded from taking legal action in civil and criminal law for edited contents in the process of program production or results following screening” (Section 7 Article 13). It basically took steps to prevent participants from taking legal action against any issues caused by Mnet, for instance “evil editing.” On this the Fair Trade Commission ordered CJ ENM amend 12 unconscionable provisions relating to the contractual conditions of its program participants in April of the same year. As a result, sections like those prohibiting an appeal to any damages resulting from unfairly edited filmed content and waiver of legal rights including copyrights to business entities were amended.

In April 2018, Mnet announced its decision to pay Produce 48 participants 100 thousand Won per episode and 1 million Won per record for sale (OSEN). But the 100 thousand Won stipulated in the Produce X101 contract did not apply to participants who were eliminated. And it was later revealed that 1 million Won was only paid to the production agency while the rest of the profits made all went to CJ ENM. Despite the unfairness in the contract, the audition program created by CJ ENM birthing idol groups such as I.O.I and Wanna One remained a scarce opportunity for trainees struggling to remain afloat amid endless competition. The very idea of a fair contract may have been an illusion in a tilted playing field made by a giant company.

Feigned excuses and neglet to act on vote rigging controversy
“The chances would be similar to winning the lottery 9 times in a row. The probability is next to impossible,” said professor Soo-young Choi of Ajou University on the show PD Note aired on November 15. The vote count for trainees in the final live voting round of Produce X101 recorded a 29,978 vote difference between the first and second contestants, which was exactly the same difference between the third and fourth, sixth and seventh, as well as tenth and eleventh contestants. The difference between the fourth and fifth contestants was 119,911 – the same as that between contestants ranked fourteenth and fifteenth. Each participant’s vote count was an invariable number 7494.44 (0.05% of the total votes) multiplied by a coefficient, rounded up to the first digit after the decimal point. This led to suspicion that the final viewer votes determining the debut members for X1 were tampered with. On 20 July a national petition was filed to demand a response to the vote rigging for the Produce X101 live vote. But on 22 July, a person from Mnet revealed, “Internal data was checked numerously and there were no issues identified at all. There were no problems or tampering with viewer votes. While it is amazing the same number of difference occurred between vote counts, nothing can be said about this because it is what it is. There won’t be an official response because suspicions will still be raised” (Xports Media). The feigned response to numbers that were clearly absurd was merely that “it is what it is,” without an official response.

It was only after a class action suit was underway with the formation of a Fact Finding Committee in by the Produce X101 fandom in regards to the viewer vote in question that Mnet supplied an official response. On the 24th of the same month Mnet stressed the final ranking results were unaffected and that “in the process of the production crew verifying the rankings on numerous occasions, the percentage of votes was rounded up to the second digit after the decimal point, of which the converted number of votes was streamed to the live broadcast.” When this did nothing to quell the controversy, Mnet made an additional announcement promising to “call in a credible investigation agency.” The Produce X101 Fact Finding Committee comprised of 260 viewers sued the CJ ENM production crew implicating entertainment agency personnel for fraud and exercising undue influence in obstruction of business. Mast, the law firm representing the Fact Finding Committee, pointed to the cause of the scandal as “The production crew’s neglect to reveal the raw data of the vote counts at first instance, which could have saved it from blowing up.” Mnet enticed viewers with the phrase, “The citizen producers,” but failed at any sincere attempt to explain itself when questioned by those who had cast a vote. The reason is now self-evident. It really was a scam.

Forced launch of X1
“We deserve the criticism for wrongdoings. The X1 members shouldn’t have to suffer,” (source: Newsen) announced Mnet on August 31 regarding its decision to go ahead with the debut of the Produce X101 finalists. But whether it truly fathomed the damage the members could face was questionable. On July 26 after the formation of the Fact Finding Committee in response to the Produce X101 voting fraud scandal, Maeil Business News revealed in an exclusive report “A senior member of Mnet assembled personnel from the entertainment agencies of 9 eliminated participants of the final live broadcast offering inclusion into the X1 group if a participant had a grievance about the latest vote results.” In doing so it blatantly undermined the integrity of the show in an attempt to dispel immediate rumors, offering a dangerous proposal that would put both the eliminated participants and debuting trainees at risk. Moreover on July 29, when the agencies of the 20 trainees who made it to the live broadcast collectively reached the decision to go ahead with X1’s debut, Mnet did not show up nor did it make an official acknowledgment despite being in the center of the controversy. It conveniently neglected to object to what would be profitable for them, knowing full well that if voting fraud were to be confirmed damage would be suffered directly by the members. The Produce X101 Fact Finding Committee was certainly was persuasive when it claimed that going ahead with X1’s debut would be yet another betrayal for the viewers, and would go against the spirit of the program.

Mnet continued to act in an inexcusable manner after the revelations in regards to the controversy. When it was revealed that producer Ahn Joon-young admitted to the fabrication of Produce 48 and Produce X101 voting results, team IZ*ONE, which had debuted in the program Produce 48, cancelled its comeback showcase scheduled for the 11th. However X1 proceeded to participate in the K-Pop Festa in Bangkok event and announced it would be participating in the VLIVE Awards V HEARTBEAT to be held on the 16th in Gocheok Sky Dome, Seoul, as planned. When public opinion continued to go sour, Mnet said on the 15th just one day ahead of the event, “Upon careful consideration of the recent public sentiment, X1 has decided not to appear in the 2019 VLIVE Awards V HEARTBEAT on the 16th of November,” adding there were “no additional promotional schedules planned at present.”
Regardless of the fact that the V HEARTBEAT event had offered early ticket bookings to those who paid a membership fee, Mnet cancelled right ahead of the event rather than responding quickly while the controversy went on. As a result X1 was placed in a position where their promotional activities were made tentative only to cancel last minute, and the fans who had waited through all the doubt were disappointed once again. Whether or not Mnet had been sincere in saying, “The X1 members shouldn’t have to suffer,” one thing is clear. It chose profit over taking responsibility for the controversy it created.


Members of the Produce X101 production crew arrested
On November 5, Ahn Joon-young PD and Kim Yong-beom CP were arrested on charges including fraud and obstruction of business exercising undue influence. And for the first time since the scandal, an official apology was issued to “sincerely apologise to the viewers, fans, Produce X101 participants, and agency personnel who had shown nothing but a genuine interest in the show.” This was after 3 months had passed since the Produce X101 Fact Finding Committee was formed at the end of July this year. And on November 9 Newsis exclusively reported that Ahn Joon-young had received favors in the form of bar entertainment in the Gangnam region from production agencies for a year and a half from January last year to July this year. At the time he denied allegations of fabricating the votes for Produce 101 and Produce 101 Season 2, but on November 14 he admitted partially to vote rigging charges for the two programs as well. As such the integrity of the Produce 101 program, which had received widespread attention for its concept of “the citizen producers” was compromised for good. And the teams that debuted from the series including I.O.I, Wanna One, IZ*ONE, and X1 were given the disgraceful title of a team that was chosen from fabricated results.

Even before the arrest of the production crew members the Produce 101 series were appearing in reports regarding various issues. On October 1, CBS Nocut News revealed that a number of trainees who made it to the final 11 in Produce X101 had actually been in the eliminated group in vote counts, and on October 3 MBC News Desk aired an episode on the claims of participants that the final contest song details had been leaked to a particular group of trainees ahead of everyone else. In the PD Note episode aired on October 15 it was revealed that the PD in charge of aggregating the votes had not been in the control room at the time. Despite all these factors, Mnet continued to promote the launching of audition programs which were in fact right in the middle of the controversy. On October 4 a press conference was held to announce the launch of the audition program To Be World Klass designed to select 10 members for a global idol group TOO, and on October 21 an ad was placed to recruit applicants for the audition program Teen Singer with the catch phrase “performing teens chosen by teens” until November 24. Amidst crumbling credibility of audition programs Mnet pushed on with audition programs without the slightest intention to take responsibility for the problems it had created. It did reveal its position indirectly as “reviewing options including returning of earnings derived from the series.” That was after the viewers, audition contestants, and the debut members who had fought for their place could no longer turn back from the hurt they faced. Even so, Mnet may still be bent on savoring what it can.

CREDIT 글 | 김리은(Rieun Kim)
번역 | 심국비(Gukby Sim)