Yoon’s attack on press freedom in South Korea
Author: Soyoung Kim, Nanyang Technological University
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s tendency to avoid uncomfortable questions and attack specific outlets undermines his promised initiatives for better communication. Its open contempt and persecution of the media that report its shortcomings and failures is an attack on democracy itself.
President Yoon aired asking “wouldn’t it be damn embarrassing for Biden if these idiots at [the] the legislature does not approve [the Global Fund]?’ It was captured by a South Korean media pool and broadcast by public broadcaster Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Faced with low national approval ratings, Yoon’s spokesman insisted that the “idiots” referred to the opposition-controlled Korean National Assembly, not the US legislature, and that he hadn’t said “Biden” but actually “nal li myun”, which can be understood in Korean to mean “if he gets dumped”.
Leaving aside the question of whether it is acceptable to swear at one’s own opposition, Yoon attempted to promote a more favorable interpretation of his statement while invalidating the judgment of the South Korean people and the credibility of MBC.
After initially denying the post, the president’s office and Yoon’s People’s Power Party (PPP) criticized MBC for being the first to air the statement with captions. PPP leader Joo Ho-young alleged that MBC failed to undertake a fact-checking process to verify the report. Still, MBC’s reporting did not require fact-checking, as Yoon’s words were clear.
PPP lawmakers along with members of the National Assembly’s Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee established an investigative task force and staged a protest at MBC headquarters. Kweon Seong-dong, a prominent PPP lawmaker and Yoon’s chief of staff when he was a presidential candidate, voiced his support for Yoon. He alleged that MBC harmed South Korea’s national interest, misled the public by maliciously misrepresenting the president’s statement, and deliberately diplomatically self-harmed.
The party also announced it would sue the president, bureau chief, digital news chief and an MBC reporter for defamation and spreading false information. Arguing that the media should protect the national interest is a slippery slope given the subjectivity of what constitutes the national interest.
That the president made inappropriate comments in a public space — even though his office wants to argue it was a private conversation — was disappointing but not unforgivable. Yoon should have apologized and moved on. But what’s more worrying now isn’t whether the president said Biden or “nal li myun,” or whether the “idiots” referred to members of the US Congress. It is the concerted effort of the President, his administration and his party to violently attack MBC in order to discredit the integrity of the company and silence their reporting.
Yoon specifically targets MBC despite other media reporting similar facts to make an example of media control. His administration has a habit of targeting MBC. When he was the party’s acting representative and leader, Kweon Seong-dong blocked questions from MBC, accusing them of being controlled by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and having a bias towards the Party. democrat. The KCTU is a progressive trade union often criticized by conservatives.
Yoon’s attack on MBC is just the latest manifestation of his cavalier attitude towards the media. During a question-and-answer session with reporters as the presidential candidate, a staunch supporter was heard telling him that he should skip ahead to answer questions from the “left-wing press”. Yoon obliged.
The streamlined press conferences that Yoon promised to hold each day as president became shorter and turned into a mere formality as controversies over Yoon’s statements grew. Contrary to his original goal of improving communication, Yoon refused to answer uncomfortable questions and even berated reporters who asked critical questions. One of these “press conferences” only lasted 43 seconds with 2 questions.
The Yoon administration’s attempt to remove inconvenient questions seems systematic. At the press conference marking the 100th day of his presidency, the president’s spokesperson chose 12 reporters to ask a question. But to the surprise of many correspondents in the president’s office, none of them asked about the most sensitive and pressing domestic political issues concerning Yoon, such as his justice minister’s review of the executive order. law enforcement on the prosecutor’s office or the controversies surrounding his wife.
For someone who claims to place a strong emphasis on “freedom” – mentioning it 35 times in his inaugural speech and 21 times during his address to the UN General Assembly – Yoon’s contempt for freedom of the press is striking. After the president’s office began attacking MBC, Yoon’s supporters even began to dox MBC reporters.
Political leaders launch attacks on specific outlets and turn a blind eye to their supporters’ abuses of individual journalists. Yoon’s practices resemble those of populist, anti-democratic leaders who gained political influence through oppression and manipulation of the media. His actions threaten the media’s ability to hold political actors accountable and serve the public’s right to know, endangering South Korean democracy.
Soyoung Kim is PhD student at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological Universityy, Singapore.