S.Korea paparazzi swoop on plastic bags, cigarettes

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - At paparazzi schools in South Korea, students are taught how to stalk their prey and get them on film, but it’s not the celebrities they’re after, just ordinary citizens committing minor crimes.

“Track down a person smoking a cigarette (in a non-smoking area). When he throws away the cigarette, film it. Later, collect his car licence number,” encourages the textbook at one of the academies, the Mismiz Report and Compensation School

The thrill of the chase grew as various government agencies -- some now not quite so sure it was a great idea -- introduced “report and reward” schemes that encouraged people to catch their citizens transgressing the law.

The opportunities are plenty, and even include catching shopkeepers in the act of giving away plastic bags to customers which, under a law aimed at preventing waste, they are supposed to charge for.

A new word -- ssu-parazzi -- has even been coined by adding part of the Korean for garbage for those who specialise in catching people illegally throwing away their rubbish.

The damning evidence is sent to the appropriate state agency, along with the witnesses’ bank details, in return for rewards which start at 50,000 won ($36) and go much higher for more serious infringements.

“In just two weeks, I have earned 8 million won ($5,700) ... I feel grateful for the academy and my teacher,” wrote one student on the website of another school, Posang Club, adding that he had paid several hundred dollars for lessons.

At 350,000 won ($250) for a short course, the schools have also provided an extra source of revenue for education-obsessed South Korea’s huge private academy industry.

“(We) finish classes in three days for those from rural areas. Otherwise, three days to a week is needed...After that, students can continue to drop by here to edit.” said Mr. Shin, head of Posang Club. Posang is Korean for compensation.

Lessons include how to use hidden cameras, which can cost up to 2 million won ($1,420), and how to edit the final product.

“Normally, when you build up career for more than three courses, then you can become an professional,” said Moon Sung-ok, president of Mismiz school, tells a class.

Students range from housewives to college students, all prompted by a desire for extra cash as the South Korean economy slows.

“I hesitated to come here because it sounds like ratting somebody out,” a 60 year-old housewife Jin Pil-geun said.

But the bounty-hunter approach the programme has encouraged, is worrying some in the government that they have created a new form of business rather than a way of improving society.

“We are trying to prevent a growing number of paparazzi from taking public money, such as reducing the amount of the reward,” said one government agency official, who asked not to be named.